Family of Slain Priest Disputes Allegations

By Rory McClannahan
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
May 10, 1997

Media, Archbishop Focus of Criticism

The family of a slain Catholic priest said Friday the Rev. Armando Martinez was a compassionate man who was always willing to help "a stranded person or a lonely traveler."

The family also berated the media, the archbishop of Santa Fe and the suspected killer's family for statements made since Martinez's body was found Sunday.

Dennis Manzanares, Martinez's nephew, read a prepared statement at a news conference Friday saying the family waited until the retired priest was buried before responding to allegations and statements about him.

"Father Martinez gave comfort to tens of thousands of New Mexicans," Manzanares said.

Martinez's nude body was found about 10 feet off NM 4 at the Valle Grande in the Jemez Mountains.

On Wednesday, Dennis Carabajal, 38, turned himself in to the Sandoval County Detention Center after the sheriff's department issued an arrest warrant accusing him in the killing. Carabajal is charged with an open count of murder, tampering with evidence and stealing a car. He is being held on a $1 million cash or surety bond.

Manzanares said his uncle was "brutally and savagely beaten to death by a man, hitchhiking, and to whom he had offered a ride."

Martinez died from a blow to his head from a blunt instrument, the Office of the Medical Investigator has ruled.

Carabajal has an extensive criminal record dating to 1978, including convictions for forgery, battery of a peace officer and aggravated battery.

Manzanares criticized news outlets that announced Martinez's death "prior to the family being given the courtesy of being notified by law enforcement personnel or the church."

He said the reports caused great grief to the family and are a "perfect example of the irresponsible few of the media who will do anything for the jump on the story."

The family also criticized Archbishop Michael Sheehan for holding a news conference Tuesday, the day Martinez's body was identified. Sheehan didn't notify the family or the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department about the conference, Manzanares said.

Sheehan told reporters Martinez had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor boy and suspended by the archdiocese in 1993. Martinez retired in 1994. Manzanares said he was puzzled why the archbishop released that information and questioned its relevance to the case.

"The family is requesting a meeting with the archbishop to discuss the matter," Manzanares said.

Mary Ryland, communications director for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, said in a prepared statement late Friday:

"We're dealing with a very tragic and painful situation for the family of Father Martinez, but nonetheless the archdiocese felt it had to speak the truth concerning the allegation that had been made against him.

"At the same time, the Archdiocese also recognizes the good Father Armando did. He was loved by countless parishioners he had faithfully served. Despite his being restricted, he was still a priest of the archdiocese."

Manzanares also criticized Carabajal's relatives for their public statements.

Martinez's family is "astounded" by the "outrageous and preposterous statements of (Carabajal) and his family," Manzanares said.

Carabajal's brother, Lawrence Carabajal of Cuba, N.M., said Thursday his sister spoke with Dennis Carabajal before he turned himself in. He reportedly told her he reacted violently after Martinez made a sexual advance toward him.

"He can't handle something like that," Lawrence Carabajal said. "I think he had to be provoked. I don't think he would go out and do something like that, just kill someone."

Manzanares said Carabajal might have seen news reports about the earlier sexual misconduct allegations and be trying to use them to his advantage. He added that a civil court case involving that allegation against Martinez is pending and the claim hasn't been substantiated.

Manzanares wouldn't comment further, but Mike Runnels, 13th Judicial District attorney, said Friday he was skeptical about the claims Carabajal's family has made.

"If every prisoner responded violently to every unwanted sexual advance in the joint, there probably wouldn't be any prison population problem," Runnels said.

Manzanares said his uncle had known he wanted to be a priest since he was a boy -- playing at giving his brothers and sisters Holy Communion with Neco candy wafers. Martinez entered the seminary as a teen-ager and devoted himself to theological study and pastoral ministry, Manzanares said.

Martinez was ordained in 1961 and served churches throughout the state.

Manzanares said his family will work with the District Attorney's Office to get a conviction in the case.

Manzanares said the 62-year-old Martinez grew up at a time when back doors were left unlocked at night and a person didn't have to worry about safety when picking up a hitchhiker.

"He was too trusting in a world that had changed," Manzanares said.


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