Suspect Pleads Not Guilty; Family Details His Account

By Omar A. Duque
Albuquerque Tribune (New Mexico)
May 9, 1997


Family says Dennis Carabajal told them he beat the victim and left him 'still breathing' in the Jemez Mountains

Relatives who accompanied Dennis Carabajal when he surrendered to police said he told family members the killing of the Rev. Armando Martinez occurred after the two spent a day together drinking and the priest then made an unwanted sexual advance.

Family members of Carabajal, 38, said he told them that he and Martinez had been drinking together when the priest tried to fondle him.

He admitted hitting the priest, relatives said, but didn't think he had killed him when he stole the priest's car and left him near N.M. 4 in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Albuquerque.

Carabajal's nephew, Richard Gutierrez, said his uncle told him: "I killed him. I guess I did it. I didn't know at the time that I did it but . . .."

Carabajal's niece, Diana Maestas, said that Carabajal told her Martinez "was still breathing" when he left.

"I didn't know that I had killed him," the niece said Carabajal told her.

Family members also say that Carabajal told them that a car stopped after he had begun beating the priest and that the priest told occupants of the car that Carabajal was trying to kill him. Carabajal told the people in the car that he and the other man were drunk and were fighting, Gutierrez said.

When told of the family's account, Sandoval County District Attorney Mike Runnels scoffed at the idea that Carabajal, who was released from prison last year, would blame the killing on a sexual advance, noting that Carabajal had a history of violent behavior.

Members of Carabajal's family described Carabajal's account hours after he was arraigned Thursday before Sandoval County Magistrate Judge Margaret Cassidy-Baca on charges of murder, theft and obstruction of justice in the county courthouse in Bernalillo.

He pleaded not guilty and his bond was set at $1 million.

Martinez, 62, a longtime priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, was suspended from the priesthood in 1993 after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, Archbishop Michael Sheehan said.

Martinez had been in counseling at the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs in 1988 and was undergoing treatment up until his death. He lived in Bernalillo.

Sandoval County deputies found the body of a man Sunday about 10 feet from N.M. 4 in the Valle Grande. He was later identified as Martinez.

Carabajal turned himself in to Sandoval County authorities at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. He was accompanied by three of his sisters, a brother-in-law and three nephews.

Some of Carabajal's family members who were with him Wednesday said he and the priest had been together all day Saturday.

Carabajal told his family that he didn't know Martinez was a priest.

They say Carabajal told them Martinez had picked him up hitchhiking early Saturday morning near Cuba. Carabajal was on his way to see his two daughters in Paguate, about 50 miles west of Albuquerque.

Martinez invited him to go to the hot springs in the Santa Fe National Forest north of Jemez Springs, and he accepted, the family said.

"They had been drinking . . . together," said Gilbert Carabajal, the suspect's father, who lives in Cuba, N.M.

Maestas, Carabajal's niece, said he told her that "the priest started acting strange."

Carabajal told his niece that he had fallen asleep in the passenger seat of the priest's car. When he awoke, he told her, Martinez was fondling him.

Carabajal got out of the car and started beating the priest on the head with a rock, Maestas said.

Martinez attempted to flag down motorists for help, according to an affidavit filed Wednesday in Sandoval County Magistrate Court.

According to witnesses, Martinez said: "A man is trying to kill me!"

"Please help me, I'm a priest."

Witnesses described Martinez as pale and scared, with blood on his face and hands.

Another man, who appeared younger, approached the car, witnesses said, and told them, "Don't listen to my friend. He's drunk. He doesn't know what he's saying."

The people became frightened and fled. One looked back and said he saw "the younger male striking the older male about the head and face with his fists."

Carabajal's niece also said that Carabajal told her he ripped off Martinez's shirt and drove off in the priest's car.

Carabajal then drove to Las Vegas, N.M., Gutierrez said. He threw Martinez's wallet out of the car window and went to the house of friends to wash his hands. He told them he had been in a fight, Gutierrez said.

He told his family that he was frightened because he thought police were after him for auto theft and battery.

Las Vegas police said today they still are looking for a man who tried to use Martinez's credit cards and drivers license to buy liquor Sunday in Las Vegas.

They expected to issue a warrant this afternoon for the man's arrest on charges of fraudulent use of a credit card, said Sgt. Clarence Romero of the Las Vegas Police Department. Police believe the man is still in the Las Vegas area.

Police think the man and Carabajal are acquaintances, Romero said. He said Sandoval County authorities are seeking the man for questioning.

Carabajal drove to Albuquerque sometime after Sunday, Gutierrez said. He told his nephew that he abandoned the car Tuesday.

Family members said Carabajal didn't know the priest was dead until he saw it on a TV news report.

Wednesday evening, Carabajal met with relatives at his brother's house in Albuquerque's North Valley. He told them he was going to turn himself in.

Maestas said Carabajal was "in a state of shock" and considering suicide.

Gutierrez said Carabajal told him: "If I had a gun, I would do away with myself right now."

But family members said Carabajal was most distressed at the fact that Martinez was a priest.

"If it wasn't a priest, it wouldn't have hit him that hard," Gutierrez said.

Carabajal grew up in Cuba. He went to Cuba High School in the 1970s, where he played basketball for three years.

He has a 20-year criminal record, beginning with a 1978 charge of assaulting a police officer when Carabajal was still a juvenile. He has since been convicted of a string of crimes, including auto theft, fraud, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery.

He was released from the state penitentiary near Santa Fe in July 1996 after serving time on a three-year conviction for the aggravated battery.

Carabajal's lawyer, Arthur Hernandez, of the Sandoval County Public Defender's Office, sat next to the quiet Carabajal in court Thursday.

Hernandez said Carabajal didn't have the money to post bond. A preliminary hearing will be within 10 days.

Martinez's funeral was in Questa on Thursday. A friend of Martinez's said the late priest's family will soon issue a statement on the death.


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