New Mexico Supreme Court upholds first-degree murder conviction

Crime
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SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the first-degree murder conviction of Yoan Pena Santiesteban on Friday for the fatal shooting of an Albuquerque man in 2017. The Administrative Office of the Courts reports, however, that justices concluded that there were errors in the defendant’s sentencing.

A press release from the Administrative Office of the Courts reports that Santiesteban was sentenced to life in prison plus 68-and-a-half years for the murder of Matthew Severinghaus, robbery, and other crimes involving his death in addition to two other killings that occurred separately days earlier. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, vacated Santiesteban’s 15-year sentence for shooting at a motor vehicle, and a one-year enhancement added to his murder sentence as a firearm was used in the crime.

According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the court concluded it was a double jeopardy violation to punish the defendant for the murder and for shooting at Severinghaus’s car because “the conduct underlying both crimes was unitary”. The victim is said to have been found lying in his driveway, that his wallet was missing, and that the driver’s side window of his car was shattered.

Constitutional double jeopardy protections ban multiple punishments for a single offense. The press release explains that in vacating the additional year on the defendant’s life imprisonment sentence, the Court explained that state law allows the sentencing enhancement only when a defendant uses a firearm in committing a noncapital felony.

First degree murder is statutorily considered a capital felony. The Administrative Office of the Courts reports that state prosecutors acknowledged the sentencing errors by the district court in their written arguments submitted in Santiesteban’s appeal and agreed with the defense that the firearm enhancement and the sentence for shooting a motor vehicle should be set aside.

However, the Court rejected the defendant’s challenge to his murder conviction. The Office of the Courts states that among his arguments was that the trial court should not have admitted evidence about a polygraph taken by Santiesteban’s girlfriend who was with him when the victim was killed.

Additionally, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that a mistrial should have been granted due to certain testimony by the girlfriend. The press release states that the defense argued that she made an inadmissible statement in reference to other murder charges pending against Santiesteban at the time of his trial.

According to the Court, it’s unclear whether her statement referred to other murders. In January 2019, Santiesteban was convicted of first degree murder and other charges in the death of Severinghaus including shooting at a motor vehicle, armed robbery, and aggravated burglary.

Santiesteban later pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of two other individuals in separate shootings in May 2017.

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