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Guilty Plea in Brutal Slaying

SANTA FE, N.M. — Rudy Salazar, 32, accused of taking part in a brutal 2010 killing in Rio Arriba County, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping in state District Court.

Salazar, of Alcalde, is one of two men facing charges for allegedly dousing Steven Duran of Chamita, who was 31, with gasoline, throwing him into an arroyo near Ojo Caliente and lighting him on fire.

Duran’s body was found near his pickup Feb. 24, 2010. The police have said Duran was killed as a night of partying with drugs and alcohol by three men turned violent.

Salazar faces a minimum of 16 years and up to 22 years in prison on the second-degree murder and kidnapping counts, along with sentencing enhancements for being a habitual offender because of prior felony convictions.

He also could be fined up to $15,000.

Salazar appeared before state District Judge Michael Vigil to enter the guilty pleas Wednesday. Family and friends of Duran wearing buttons with Duran’s photo filled the courtroom. They didn’t speak at Wednesday’s brief plea hearing, but relatives of the victim in a murder case typically address the judge at the subsequent sentencing hearing.

Salazar had little to say beyond answering questions from the judge. He said he had been diagnosed with brain damage and was on medication but understood the charges and his plea.

Toby Gonzales of El Guique also is charged with murder in the case. Earlier this year, it appeared Gonzales had reached a plea deal with prosecutors. But Vigil said at a hearing that Gonzales had “made statements” that rendered the plea deal “not viable,” and prosecutors withdrew their offer.

Tom Clark, Gonzales’ attorney, said then that Gonzales had written a letter from jail that caused prosecutors to pull out of the plea agreement. Both Clark and prosecutors said they couldn’t disclose what the letter was about or the terms of the prospective plea deal.

Gonzales’ case is still pending.