Jury finds Astorga guilty of aggravated circumstances in murder case
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Santa Fe jury decided Tuesday that a man convicted of killing a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy is guilty of aggravated circumstances in the murder, setting up a hearing for a possible death penalty.
The guilty decision Tuesday means that the jury now has to hear testimony about whether Michael Astorga should get the death penalty for the crime. The hearing is slated to begin Wednesday in Santa Fe. Astorga was convicted of the 2006 killing of Deputy James McGrane during a traffic stop. He faces life in prison or death, even though New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. He is eligible for the death penalty since the crime occurred before the repeal.
Astorga’s attorney, Gary Mitchell, had argued that there was no evidence that Astorga’s pickup truck was ever pulled over the night McGrane was killed in the mountains east of Albuquerque.
But District Attorney Kari Brandenburg argued that Astorga lied on the stand about possessing a gun, and she mocked what she called his “psychic abilities’ that led him to flee to Mexico before he was identified as a suspect. The state Supreme Court ruled that Astorga was eligible for the death penalty since the crime occurred before the repeal. The court ruled that the repeal applied to crimes committed after July 1, 2009, when it took effect.
New Mexico has executed one person since 1960 — child killer Terry Clark in 2001. Two other inmates remain on death row in the state.