SANTA FE — A Las Cruces man who waited almost four years to stand trial for first-degree murder was not unfairly prejudiced by the delay, the New Mexico Supreme Court said Thursday in upholding his conviction.
The 30-year-old defendant, Moises Menchaca, is serving a sentence of life in prison plus 19 years.
"Although Menchaca's 47-month pretrial delay was presumptively prejudicial, upon balancing the other factors, we do not find a constitutional violation," the justices said in a 5-0 decision.
Menchaca's public defender argued that his right to a speedy trial was violated by the state, and that the delays ultimately deprived him of an important witness.
He was convicted in 2011 for the murder of William Lucero, who was hit by seven of approximately 10 bullets fired into a house.
Two other men were wounded in the hail of gunfire. A jury found that those shots also were fired by Menchaca.
Menchaca said his trial was prejudiced by the delays because a witness who could have helped his defense, J.T. Melendres, himself was murdered before the trial.
The state attorney general's staff said Menchaca and Melendres were cousins and that any testimony from Melendres could have been challenged on the basis of its reliability.
In addition, the state said that Menchaca's lawyers waited for years before objecting to any of the delays.
"The defendant did not assert his right to a speedy trial until he filed a motion to dismiss on July 8, 2011, less than one month before trial and 46 months after his arrest," the attorney general's staff stated in a brief to the Supreme Court.
Prosecutors said Menchaca's shooting rampage was an act of revenge.
A member of the South Side Royal Knights Gang, Menchaca wore a red shirt to a party at the home of a man named James Bonnett. Menchaca's choice of color led to his arguing with others at the party.
Bonnett punched Menchaca, knocking him unconscious. Once he revived, Menchaca left the house but promised to return.
Prosecutors say two other men, Isaac M. Ramirez and Benjamin Joel Tapia, then agreed to assist Menchaca in his plan to spray Bonnett's house with gunfire. Both men accepted plea bargains and testified against Menchaca.