A convicted rapist has added six more convictions to his history of violent sex crimes – a list that may include the homicides of 11 women buried on Albuquerque’s West Mesa.
Joseph Blea, 58, pleaded no contest Monday to five counts of first-degree rape and one count of kidnapping involving attacks on three victims that occurred in 1990 and 1993.
Specifically, each rape charge alleges that the criminal sexual penetrations involved force or coercion and resulted in great bodily harm or great mental anguish to the victims. A District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman in Albuquerque identified the victims as one child and two adults.
Each charge carries a basic sentence of 18 years. If served consecutively, Blea could face up to 108 years in prison, though prosecutor Jacqueline James said in court Monday that the state has agreed to a cap of 54 years.
Sentencing is set for July 30 before state District Judge Jacqueline Flores.
Last week, state District Judge Judith Nakamura sentenced Blea to 36 years for the 1988 rape of a 13-year-old Albuquerque girl. Court documents said that Blea’s DNA was present in the rape kit evidence taken from the girl at the time, and only tested years later.
In both last week’s and Monday’s cases, evidence of the crimes was agreed to by both sides, with the condition that Blea be allowed to later appeal his convictions on multiple grounds, including illegally obtaining his DNA.
Monday’s case involved incidents that occurred Oct. 7, 1990; June 7, 1993; and Nov. 25, 1993. No further details of the attacks were provided in court, but prosecutor James said the cases involved uncontested facts similar to those in the rape of the 13-year-old girl in 1988.
In that case, Blea, clad in a ski mask and gloves and carrying a knife, broke into the girl’s home and hid behind a bookshelf in her living room to await her return from school while her mother was at work. The girl, an eighth-grader who lived a few blocks from Blea’s home near McKinley Middle School, was raped on the living room sofa and then locked in a bathroom with the door secured by a telephone cord to prevent her from escaping.
Blea may also be connected to the 1985 murder of Jennifer Lynn Shirm, 22, who was bludgeoned to death and tossed under brush off East Central. Another man, Alex Eugene Murray, had initially been charged in her death, but the charges were dropped in 2006 because DNA evidence did not connect him to her body. According to an Albuquerque police affidavit, the DNA was a match to Blea.
However, no charges have been filed against Blea in connection with the Shirm murder.
Police also have looked into the possibility Blea was connected to the killing of the West Mesa women, considered one of the nation’s worst unsolved serial killing cases.
According to a court affidavit obtained by the Journal, a plant tag was found buried on the West Mesa along with one of the women’s bodies. Blea was a landscaper at the time and was known to have used the nursery connected to the plant tag.
Also according to the affidavit, Albuquerque police detectives found 20 women who identified Blea as someone who frequented prostitutes on East Central. Some of the 11 women whose bodies were found on the West Mesa had had prostitution convictions.
Albuquerque police have confirmed that Blea is one of two men identified by name as being investigated in the West Mesa slayings, but they have said they do not have enough evidence to call either man a suspect.
Blea’s history of sexual deviance includes stealing women’s clothing and indecent exposure and extends back to age 19.