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New Mexico candidate charged in shooting case due in court

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A political newcomer who lost his bid for the New Mexico statehouse and is accused of orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic officials was scheduled to appear in court Monday for a detention hearing.

Prosecutors are seeking to detain Solomon Peña, 39, pending trial on multiple charges that include shooting at a dwelling and possession of a firearm by a felon. They say he’s a danger to the community.

Peña’s defense attorney hasn’t addressed the charges publicly, but said during her client’s initial court appearance last week that she would ask for conditions of release to be set.

No one was hurt in the shootings, but the case has reignited the debate over whether lawmakers should consider pretrial detention reforms as New Mexico struggles with persistent violent crime.

Authorities arrested Peña on Jan. 9, accusing him of paying for a father and son and two other unidentified men to shoot at the officials’ homes between early December and early January. The shootings followed his unsuccessful GOP bid for a district long been considered a Democratic stronghold. He claimed the election was rigged.

Police also are investigating donations made to Peña’s campaign, including a contribution by one of the men accused of conspiring with him and the man’s mother. Detectives said they learned through witness interviews that Peña allegedly identified individuals to funnel contributions from an unknown source to his campaign.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the money was generated from drug trafficking.

Court records show Peña was incarcerated for several years after being arrested in 2007 in connection with what authorities described as a smash-and-grab burglary scheme that targeted retail stores. His voting rights were restored after he completed probation in 2021.

An assessment that considers his criminal history and several other factors provides recommendations for what level of pretrial supervision Peña should have, but it will be up a judge to decide Monday.

The risk assessment tool has been the focus of much criticism as the public has pushed for Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to consider reforms amid Albuquerque’s ongoing struggle to combat persistent violent crime and what many perceive as a “revolving door” in the criminal justice system.

Top court administrators in New Mexico have defended the tool, developed by the Arnold Foundation and used in dozens of jurisdictions around the U.S.