Ex-Con Sought in Priest's Death

By Omar A. Duque and Jessie Milligan
Albuquerque Tribune (New Mexico)
May 7, 1997

Police say the Rev. Armando Martinez and a former inmate were seen together in Martinez's car before Martinez's body was discovered.

Law enforcement authorities said today they are looking for a former state penitentiary inmate in the killing of a longtime New Mexico Catholic priest.

At a news conference this morning in Bernalillo, Sandoval County District Attorney Mike Runnels said authorities are looking for Dennis Carbajal, 38, who they believe killed diocesan priest Armando Martinez, 62.

Because they were together over the weekend, authorities said they believe the priest and the suspect were acquaintances.

Sandoval County Sheriff Rey Rivera said Carbajal was seen with Martinez several times this past weekend in the Jemez Mountains.

One of those times was about 4:30 p.m. Saturday when a deputy pulled over the priest's Cadillac during a routine traffic stop on N.M. 4 northwest of Albuquerque.

Later on Saturday, police said Carbajal was spotted driving Martinez's car in the La Cueva area in the Jemez Mountains. Authorities said they have no motive for the killing.

Carbajal was described as 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs about 170 pounds. He is from the Cuba area.

He has a history of violent crime as well as of drug and substance abuse, authorities said.

In September 1994, Carbajal began serving a three-year sentence in the state penitentiary on aggravated battery charges. He was released on parole in July 1996; his parole ended on Feb. 15, 1997.

The priest's body was discovered Sunday along N.M. 4 near the Valle Grande area in the Jemez Mountains.

The state Office of the Medical Investigator today said the cause of death was "blunt force injuries of the head and the manner was homicide."

Authorities said Martinez was not shot.

His body was found Monday about 10 feet from N.M. 4 near the Valle Grande in the Jemez Mountains, about 10 miles west of Los Alamos.

Authorities say that Martinez was probably killed in the general area where his body was found.

His car and belongings are missing.

Investigators now are looking for Martinez's green 1978 Cadillac Deville, New Mexico license plate 697-GDY.

Rivera said Carbajal may be driving Martinez's car. He is considered armed and dangerous, Rivera said.

On Sunday, a man tried to use Martinez's credit cards and drivers license to buy liquor in Las Vegas, N.M.

Police there said a store clerk called to verify the credit card because the man's age did not match Martinez's age. When the employee questioned the man, he fled.

The employee has given police a description of the man, but police say they don't think the man using Martinez's credit cards killed the priest.

Sgt. Clarence Romero of the Las Vegas, N.M., Police Department said the description of the man in Las Vegas did not match the description of Carbajal. Romero said the two men may be acquaintances.

They are seeking the second man for questioning.

People who knew the priest described him as a kind and funny man.

He was nicknamed "Smiley", grew up in a farming family and once owned a pet monkey, friends say.

He also was a troubled cleric who had been counseled for years after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, authorities say.

"We are deeply saddened by this news," said Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan. "We grieve for him and his family and we hope the Sheriff's Department will have more information soon.

"This was probably just the result of a robbery," Sheehan said. "He was a friendly, gentle person and he probably had picked up a hitchhiker."

The longtime priest with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe was suspended in March 1993 after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. A lawsuit against him is still unsettled.

Authorities say they do not believe there was a link between the lawsuit and the priest's death. Sheehan said the allegations go back more than 15 years.

Martinez had been in counseling at the Servants of the Paraclete at Jemez Springs in 1988, the archbishop said.

He was living at the Southwest Marian Divine Mercy Center in Bernalillo.

Martinez was born in Questa to a family that farmed and had a grocery store for a short time in the small village north of Taos. He was one of nine children and the only one to serve in the ministry, said older sister Filia Higgins.

He studied at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Santa Fe, then completed his studies at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon.

"He was so trusting, too trusting for his own good," Higgins said.

A friend, the Rev. Bill Sanchez of Our Lady of Sorrows in Bernalillo, said Martinez was seriously injured in a car accident shortly before his ordination on May 20, 1961, at St. Therese Roman Catholic Church in Albuquerque. Martinez seemed to suffer no obvious long-term effects from the accident, Sanchez said.

He, too, described Martinez as pleasant, humorous and trusting.

"His nickname was Smiley," Sanchez said. "He always seemed to have that humor about him."

"He loved to tell stories. He liked to tell about a pet monkey he used to have. His name was Mikey and he would give the monkey rides on his motorcycle," Sanchez said.

After he was ordained, Martinez served at nine parishes around the state: St. Anne in Tucumcari; St. Joseph in Anton Chico; San Juan Nepomuceno in El Rito; Immaculate Conception in Cimarron; St. Mary in Vaughn; Our Lady of Belen in Belen; Sacred Heart in Espanola; St. Anne in Santa Fe; and St. Rose of Lima in Santa Rosa.

He also studied canon law and earned a degree from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., before working in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in the Marriage Tribunal Office, where he counseled couples who wished to annul their marriages.

"He was very, very compassionate with people going through difficult times," Sanchez said.

Martinez retired in 1994. He was undergoing counseling up until the time of his death, Sheehan said.

Martinez's sister said she first heard that something was amiss when the Las Vegas police called to ask about her brother's whereabouts.

She tried telephoning him repeatedly. It was not until a television newscast on Monday night that she and her family learned a body had been found and that police suspected it might be that of the priest.

She said the family knows of no circumstance in which Martinez would run into a killer and knows of no reason why he would be in the Jemez Mountains.

Martinez's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Anthony Church in Questa. Archbishop Sheehan will preside.


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