Priest's Slayer Apologizes to Family at Sentencing

By Rory McClannahan
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
March 3, 1998

50-Year Term Comes As Part of Agreement

Dennis Carabajal was sentenced Monday to 50 years in prison for killing the Rev. Armando Martinez in May.

Carabajal, 38, broke into tears as he read a prepared statement asking Martinez's family for forgiveness.

"I do want them to know that I am so sorry," Carabajal said.

In an agreement made with prosecutors last month, Carabajal pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, armed robbery and tampering with evidence in connection with the May 3 beating death of Martinez. Carabajal also agreed to be sentenced as a habitual offender and with an old-age enhancement added to the charges.

Part of the agreement was that prosecutors would ask that Carabajal be sentenced to at least 50 years in prison. State District Judge Kenneth Brown agreed with the recommendation.

Brown sentenced Carabajal to 59 years and suspended nine years of that sentence.

"I've heard no explanation of why that life was taken," Brown said.

With the old-age and habitual offender enhancements, Carabajal won't be eligible for parole for 37 years, said District Attorney Mike Runnels.

"It is most likely that this man will die in prison," Runnels said.

Two Martinez family members addressed the court in Bernalillo before Carabajal was sentenced.

Alma Martinez, Martinez's sister, told the judge of notes the priest wrote in his prayer book asking God to help homeless people and those not wanted by society. The book also contained a prayer for judges who must deal with people who have committed crimes and those "with angry thoughts," she said.

"He was a good priest and a faithful servant of God," Alma Martinez said.

Martinez, a retired priest who lived in Bernalillo, was ordained in 1961 and served in several New Mexico parishes.

Dennis Manzanares, Martinez's nephew, said his uncle had influenced many people.

"It was his guiding hand that enabled me to see the good in people," Manzanares said.

He said he is sure Martinez is praying for Carabajal, but it's up to the courts to make sure Carabajal never hurts anyone again. He asked Brown to give Carabajal the sentence called for in the plea agreement.

"There is no doubt this is a man with problems," Manzanares said. "But these are problems that make him a danger and menace."

Carabajal's attorney, Jeff Rein, said prison would be difficult for Carabajal because he would have to grow old behind bars. Most older inmates aren't a threat to society, he said.

Rein asked the judge to consider sentencing Carabajal to 19 years so he could get out and still be productive.

"He knows that he's offended the laws of this state and the laws of God," Rein said.

Brown said Carabajal had been given breaks on numerous occasions and that he had never proven he was willing to change.

"Treatment has been unsuccessful," Brown said.

According to police and court records:

Martinez, 62, had stopped to pick up Carabajal while he was hitchhiking at the intersection of N.M. 44 and N.M. 528 near Bernalillo. There were witnesses ready to testify to seeing the two together and seeing Carabajal beating Martinez about 40 miles away at the Valle Grande.

In addition, Carabajal had told police he killed Martinez.

Martinez's nude body was found May 4 about 10 feet off N.M. 4 in the Jemez Mountains. The Office of the Medical Investigator determined Martinez died of a blow to the head with a blunt object.

Carabajal, who has a criminal record dating to 1978, had been paroled from the state prison system in February 1997.

Three days after Martinez's body was found, Carabajal turned himself in when the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department issued an arrest warrant accusing him of the killing. He was charged with killing Martinez, stealing the priest's car and credit cards and trying to cover up the crime.


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