SANTA FE (KRQE) – Driven by the brutal murder of a 5-month-old girl now known as Baby Brianna, a state lawmaker fought hard to toughen penalties for child abusers who kill and won.
She passed a law creating a life sentence for intentional child abuse resulting in death. Now, a move by the New Mexico Supreme Court may give those convicted a chance to lessen their sentence.
“It makes me feel terrible because I worked so hard to get that bill through there,” former lawmaker Mary Jane Garcia said in a phone interview Friday.
Garcia, who spent more than 20 years as a senator at the Roundhouse, is stunned with a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that highlights a provision in a law that few knew of.
Back in 2005, she introduced and passed a bill that made intentional child abuse resulting in death a life sentence.
“Children are so vulnerable,” Garcia said. “They have no voice. There’s no one to protect them.”
It came after the death of Baby Brianna who was just 5 months old. She was raped and beaten to death by her parents and her uncle.
A New Mexico Supreme Court opinion handed down Thursday could change things.
It centered around the case of Nathan Montoya who in 2011 killed his girlfriend’s 17-month-old daughter in Rio Arriba county.
The New Mexico Supreme Court said the district court “misunderstood that a life sentence was mandatory and couldn’t be altered.” It went on to say it “can be altered if there are aggravating circumstances.”
“Anything that could help a district court judge sympathize with the defendant,” local attorney Ahmad Assed explained.
That would include such things as upbringing or mental health.
Few knew of this stipulation, including district attorneys and defense attorneys KRQE News 13 talked to. The high court pointed it out in Thursday’s ruling.
Assed said now that it’s been highlighted, he expects many attorneys to review their cases.
“I believe it would be opportune and appropriate to be in an appellate court” Assed said.
Garcia said life should mean life.
“These people need to stay in prison forever.”
With this opinion, a judge could knock off up to one third of someone’s sentence if they prove those aggravating circumstances.
In New Mexico, life is 30 years which means up to 10 years could be knocked off.
So how did this provision end up in the law if it wasn’t Garcia’s intention? The governor’s office tells News 13 this provision has to be included in all offenses that are not capital offenses.
Lawmakers could change this law by making intentional child abuse resulting in death a capital felony.