ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When a man came forward two years ago confessing to three cold case murders, Albuquerque Police called it a ‘gift’ to victims’ families. However, how those confessions were obtained, could get them thrown out in court.
KRQE Investigates has been following the case of accused serial killer, Paul Apodaca, and has the latest from Wednesday’s court hearing.
“In a way, that was a gift from the Albuquerque Police Department to her on her birthday that somebody who killed her 33 years later, was charged,” said APD Chief Harold Medina in August of 2021. Two years ago, Chief Medina announced an end to the cold case murder of Althea Oakley from 1988, charging Paul Apodaca on what would be her 55th birthday.
“They (Oakley’s family) thought we were on our way to tell them that the case would permanently be closed forever and that it wasn’t going to be solved,” Medina said during that 2021 news conference.
In July of 2021, seemingly out of the blue, Apodaca confessed to three cold case murders to UNM police officers. Althea Oakley, 21, in 1988, 13-year-old Stella Gonzales that same year, and 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette in 1989.
“I know sometimes it feels good to get some things off your chest, but you know before we do that, I want to make sure you understand your constitutional rights, okay?” Albuquerque Police Detective Jodi Gonterman told Apodaca during that confession in 2021.
That confession and Apodaca’s constitutional rights were the center of Wednesday’s court hearing in Judge Cindy Leos’ courtroom. Apodaca’s defense wants his confessions thrown out ahead of trial, arguing they were “unconstitutionally obtained” since the initial University police officers Apodaca confessed to didn’t read him his rights.
“Just to be clear, you never detained Mr. Apodaca?” An attorney asked the UNMH Security Guard who had initially approached Apodaca that day. “No I didn’t,” the security guard replied.
The campus security guard said he had handcuffs, but he never put them on Apodaca as he waited for UNM police to arrive. He said security had been called to check on a man sitting outside on the curb, who appeared homeless.
On Wednesday, Judge Leos heard from those witnesses who initially made contact with Apodaca the day he confessed. UNM security and police officers described Apodaca as tired and dirty, sitting outside UNM’s Children’s Psychiatric Hospital when they checked on him.
But when he started confessing to murders, the officers said they called APD’s cold case unit.
In a motion to suppress evidence, defense attorneys argued Apodaca was in need of medical treatment and deprived of rights.
In her initial interview with Apodaca, APD cold case detective Jodi Gonterman is heard on lapel video reading him his Miranda rights. “You have the right to remain silent,” the detective told Apodaca.
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State prosecutors argued paramedics did check on Apodaca that day, and the APD detective did read him his rights as soon as she realized he was confessing to murders he claimed he committed.
“What does that mean?” The detective asked Apodaca, as she was reading him his right to remain silent. “That I don’t have to say anything,” he replied. “Right. It means you don’t have to speak,” the detective added.
After hearing both sides, Judge Leos still needs to decide whether to deny or uphold the motion to suppress Apodaca’s confession. It’s evidence a jury either will or will not hear at trial.
Wednesday’s motion hearing lasted three and a half hours, and the judge will continue hearing arguments at another hearing next month. Apodaca is scheduled to go to trial in November.