ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Convicted murderer and rapist – and former death row inmate – Michael Guzman was denied parole last spring and since then has switched prisons three times.
At the time of his parole hearing, Guzman was serving time at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa. He “attended” the hearing by video. Guzman was eligible for parole, despite once being marked for execution, because his death sentence was commuted to life by then-Gov. Toney Anaya in 1986 and Guzman had served the minimum requirement before parole consideration – 30 years.
Thirty years is a long time to be locked up. It’s also a long time to live without a murdered loved one. And, as I explored in a series of columns last spring, it’s a really long time to live with the scars of surviving a brutal attack.
Guzman was convicted, at 19, of abducting two young students from near the University of New Mexico, raping and fatally stabbing one and trying to kill the other, who survived with dozens of stab wounds.
He has at different times confessed, said he didn’t commit the crimes and said he was responsible only for the stabbing. During his life in prison, he has been married several times, fathered several children and had the two victims’ names tattooed on his back.
Guzman’s parole hearing was in early April. One month later, he was shipped to the penitentiary near Santa Fe “because of concerns about tension between him and other inmates,” according to Shannon McReynolds of the Department of Corrections.
Guzman was in Santa Fe while prison officials figured out where he should go next.
It probably doesn’t come as any surprise that prison inmates keep enemy lists. But I was surprised to learn that those lists are part of the official process in determining where a prisoner serves his time.
It’s how Guzman came to be transferred to the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility in Clayton on Nov. 3.
“That was the one facility where no one had listed him as an enemy and he had no one listed on his enemy list,” McReynolds told me.
But that quickly changed. Three days into his stay at Clayton, while he was still in the orientation pod with other new inmates, prison officials say, Guzman was attacked by 15 fellow inmates and beaten badly.
He was taken by an air ambulance to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where he remained unconscious in a medically induced coma and under guard for nearly a month.
That narrative – the convicted murderer spared death by a governor’s pen only to be beaten nearly to death in prison – spurred “ha-ha” and much nastier on the Internet.
I kept tabs on Guzman’s condition because I was imagining the possibility of a more nuanced narrative – a man spared execution now lingering in a vegetative state with a decision to be made: Keep alive? Or let go?
Then Guzman began to recover.
On Dec. 8, he was discharged from the hospital and moved to the Long-Term Care Unit, a small medical unit at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility at Los Lunas. The unit takes care of inmates who have chronic health problems that prevent them from being in the general prison population.
“He’s communicating. In other words, talking,” McReynolds said. “He has motor function.”
Whether Guzman, 48, ever returns to the general prison population will depend on the extent of his recovery.
Before he was attacked, Guzman had tried yet again to challenge the legal case against him. In a habeas corpus petition, Guzman argued that he was under the influence of alcohol during the crime and that the jury should have been informed of that, which might have rendered a verdict of second-degree murder instead of capital murder.
Meanwhile, the 15 inmates who are alleged to have participated in Guzman’s beating may face criminal charges or prison discipline. The attack is being investigated by the Clayton Police Department.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie Linthicum at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal