Judge reflects on infamous Hollywood Video murders

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – It has been nearly two decades since the infamous Hollywood Video murders in Albuquerque.

The woman who helped put the cold-blooded killers behind bars is now readying for retirement.

“You know that this defendant is a mass murderer. You know that he’s our worst nightmare,” Julie Altwies said in court in 1998 while working as deputy district attorney.

Altwies is now Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court’s chief judge.

In her 26-year long career in the justice system, she has handled a lot of high profile cases.

One that is not easily forgotten: the March 1996 Hollywood Video murders.

“Five people died, and it was just awful,” Altwies told KRQE on Monday. “It was horrendous all the way around. I think that will always be in the memory of this community.”

Investigators believe then 26-year-old Shane Harrison and 41-year-old Esther Beckley shot and killed three Hollywood Video workers after an apparent robbery, then kidnapped and killed the grandparents of one of the workers, Pauline and George McDougall, who had gone to the store to pick up their grandson.

“It was painful for the whole community,” Altwies said.

Beckley pleaded guilty to killing the McDougalls and testified against Harrison when Altwies prosecuted the case.

“It was, you know, difficult emotionally and really sad set of circumstances, heartbreaking. Tough case,” she said. “It’s tough to have a two-month long trial where you’re in the public eye that much.”

Harrison was convicted of killing the McDougalls but not the three Hollywood Video clerks. In a controversial decision, the district attorney decided not to retry the case.

“It was difficult but it was the right thing to do,” Altwies said. “It doesn’t make it any less painful that it wasn’t a complete resolution, but I think justice was certainly done.”

Now, 18 years after the murders, Harrison and Beckley continue to serve life sentences in prison.

Altwies has been a Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court judge for more than 8 years.

She said she is looking forward to retiring at the end of the month to spend more time with family and more time traveling.

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