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          Front Page




Hearing Today in Death of Cop's Wife

By Colleen Heild
Journal Investigative Reporter
    For years, questions have swirled around the mysterious death of the 24-year-old wife of a former New Mexico State Police officer.
    An unusual criminal hearing that begins today in Albuquerque may finally produce some answers.
    Retired State Police Lt. Mark McCracken is to appear at a preliminary hearing on a criminal information charging him with murder in the first degree and tampering with evidence in the August 1995 death of Melanie McCracken.
    McCracken, who is free on $100,000 bond, has denied any wrongdoing in his wife's death.
    The state Supreme Court appointed retired District Court Judge David W. Bonem of Portales to hear the case. Former Clovis District Attorney Randall Harris of Clovis is acting as special prosecutor.
    This is the second round of charges against McCracken.
    He had been indicted by a Valencia County grand jury in November 2003, but murder charges were dismissed earlier this year because an investigator for the prosecution was in the grand jury room during testimony.
    Rather than seek an indictment the second time around, Harris chose to take the case to a public preliminary hearing.
    The cause of Melanie McCracken's death has never been determined by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.
    She was found dead in the back seat of McCracken's car after a one-car accident in August 1995 off N.M. 47.
    Mark McCracken contended that he found her unconscious at their Bosque Farms home and lost control of their family car while rushing her to an Albuquerque hospital. They had been married less than two years and had no children.
    State Police investigated the circumstances of the death, looking into reports that the young woman had leukemia or had committed suicide. An autopsy showed no signs of illness or a drug overdose.
    State Police later closed the inquiry.
    But the case, which became the subject of an NBC "Dateline" show, was reinvestigated by the office of 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez after he took office in 2001.
    The body was exhumed in 2002 for a second autopsy attended by medical experts for the defense and the prosecution.
    From the start, Melanie McCracken's mother, Nancy Grice, pushed for an independent inquiry of her daughter's death.
    A national medical expert Grice hired in 1999 concluded that the death was due to "homicidal suffocation."
    Grice believes State Police conducted a biased inquiry, overlooking evidence of criminal wrongdoing, because McCracken was a fellow officer. State Police have denied such accusations.
    McCracken retired in August 2003 after 21 years with State Police.