ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The man charged with killing his ex-girlfriend and her mother in their Nob Hill home will spend the next 43 years in prison for the crime. Jesus Cartagena, 22, changed his plea Wednesday in a Bernalillo County district courtroom, pleading no contest to several charges in the June 2019 murder of Shanta and Laura Hanish.
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Cartagena, who initially pleaded not guilty in the case, pleaded no contest to two counts of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, and tampering with evidence. As part of the plea agreement Cartagena agreed to a 50 year prison sentence with five years suspended. Cartagena will also receive credit for the jail time he’s served since his June 22, 2019 arrest, bringing his total sentence to roughly 43 years.
Relatives of Shanta and Laura Hanish filled the virtual courtroom Wednesday, with some remarking on the difficulty of understanding what motivated Cartagena to kill. Both Laura Hanish and Shanta Hanish were well known in the Albuquerque community through their jobs and activities. Laura worked at the Law Offices of the Public Defender as a social worker and Shanta was a lifeguard at the Highland Pool. Both attended the First Congregational United Church of Christ and volunteered with an organization called “Family Promise.”
“Laura and Shanta’s presense is missed not just by us, but by every community in which they were involved,” said Robin Hanish, Laura’s sister and Shanta’s aunt. “Laura and Shanta touched the lives of each and every person in these communities as evidenced by the over 700 attendees to their memorial service.”
Investigators say Cartagena murdered Laura and Shanta shortly after he and Shanta broke up. During Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors outline how Cartagena broke into their Nob Hill home while both were at work. Prosecutors say Cartagena waited for the family to get home, stabbing Laura to death hours before killing Shanta. Prosecutors say Cartegana took Shanta’s car, then drove to Mexico before voluntarily walking back across the border. Prosecutors said in court Wednesday Cartagena turned himself in to El Paso, Texas Police, telling officers to shoot him, saying he “hurt someone really bad.”
Cartagena apologized to the Hanish family during the hearing, reading from a prepared written statement. The now 22-year old said in part it was “impossible to adequately express the regret and remorse” to his actions but guaranteed he “will redeem himself.”
“There are points I must emphasize, this is my fault and there are zero excuses for my actions.” Cartagena said. “I cannot fathom the anguish and grief I’ve inflicted upon your family, from the bottom of my heart I apologize to you, the Hanishes. Lastly, I guarantee anyone and everyone that I will redeem myself.”
Cartagena’s attorney Tom Clark offered an explanation for the plea agreement Wednesday, saying the negotiated resolution was needed to avoid recounting the graphic events of the crime through a long trial. Clark also address the question as to why Cartagena would kill people who trusted him.
“As for the why, I don’t think that will ever be answer, I think it can be best chalked up to this issue of human frailty. Our young client is very very very young, he and Shanta had been together since they were freshmen in high school,” Clark said. “There was no hatred, there was no malice toward here, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to know why this happened or what snapped in my clients mind, or what the thought process went through, why this needed to happen – it didn’t.”
In April 2020, Cartagena was ordered to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute at Las Vegas for treatment. Online court records indicate Cartagena was found competent to stand trial in September 2020. A trial was originally slated to take place in August 2021 but has since been canceled with the change of plea.