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Case of Slain Deputy Heats Up; Hearing To Focus On Death Penalty

The Associated Press
    Prosecutors will be trying to convince a judge Monday that the death penalty is appropriate in the case of a man accused of killing a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy.
    Michael Paul Astorga's attorney, Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso, will be arguing against the death penalty during a hearing before state District Judge Neil Candelaria.
    Astorga, 31, is charged with murder, two counts of tampering with evidence and a felon in possession of a firearm in the March 22, 2006, shooting death of James McGrane Jr.
    Killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty is one of a handful of aggravating circumstances prosecutors must prove to seek the death penalty.
    McGrane, 38, was shot in the head at close range after stopping a pickup truck on N.M. 337 in Tijeras, just east of Albuquerque.
    Astorga was captured April 3, 2006, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
    Mitchell has filed 40 motions that mainly deal with various aspects of the death penalty that he contends are unconstitutional.
    He also will ask the judge to approve motions that seek to sequester jurors and prohibit McGrane's family from testifying.
    Prosecutors contend the death penalty is constitutional, and they will ask the judge to strike numerous defense exhibits that accompany Mitchell's motions.
    Security will be tight during the hearing at the Bernalillo County Courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque.
    "What we're asking people to do is to arrive early to work and also have an alternate plan for parking in case there is any road closures," said Lt. David Knowles of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department.
    Astorga, who has a history of involvement with prison and Albuquerque gangs, is serving time in the state penitentiary near Santa Fe for violating his parole.
    He also is accused in the Nov. 5, 2005, death of Candido Martinez, 27, of Albuquerque.



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