Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Deputy Can't Be Tried For '87 Homicide
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
Bernalillo County Sheriff's investigators can't pursue a murder case against a deputy they say might have been involved in a 1987 homicide because he wasn't 15 at the time of the killing.
The deputy, who sheriff's officials have declined to name, has been on paid administrative leave since June when sheriff's investigators identified Norma Denise Sahm's skeletal remains.
Sahm's body, which was found a year after her disappearance in 1987, sat in an anthropology museum for 17 years before it was identified.
Once it was, sheriff's investigators came across information that one of the department's six-year deputies was one of the last people to see the young woman alive.
When Sahm went missing, state law required juveniles to be 15 years old before they could be tried as adults.
Had the deputy been 15 then, he could be tried now as an adult because there is no statute of limitations on murder.
The law was changed in 1996 to allow 14-year-olds to be tried as adults.
The deputy was six weeks away from his 15th birthday at the time she disappeared. Investigators have not said how she was killed.
"This law would not have been an issue had mistakes not been made earlier by the criminal justice system," said Bernalillo County Sheriff's Lt. Gregg Marcantel. "Had we made the connection earlier, this law would not have been an issue (and he could have been prosecuted as a juvenile). It's sad but true."
Marcantel said his detectives are not done with the case. There is still one other suspect who might have been an accomplice. And, the lieutenant said, the sheriff's office is going to pursue an internal investigation against the deputy. If he has violated any of the department's regulations, he could lose his job.
When's Sahm's mother heard the news Monday she said, "This sucks."
"I have no anger at the Sheriff's Office," Judi Sahm said. "I have anger at the circumstances."
Sheriff Darren White said Monday that he wants the deputy's employment status to be resolved soon.
"We never want to keep anyone on paid administrative leave, but until this can be cleared up one way or the other, it is the best course of action," White said. "It is my hope we can have this wrapped up in the next few weeks either way. Part of it taking so long was getting an answer to the question if we could move forward on a criminal case."
Ray Twohig, who is representing the deputy, said Monday that his client should have been back to work by now. He insisted that his client didn't know Sahm and had nothing to do with her disappearance and death.
"They are desperate to try to solve some cold cases, and this is one they are trying to solve," Twohig said. "It was foolish to suggest my client was involved based on flaky information. He did nothing wrong and is being mistreated by a shoddy investigation."