Teen homicide involvement raises concerns

Argen Duncan and Thomas Garcia

With a 13-year-old convicted of second-degree murder and a 16-year-old and 17-year-old charged in Sunday’s homicide, there is disagreement as to whether such young people committing violent crimes is an anomaly or a trend.

Friday, a Roosevelt County jury convicted 13-year-old DeAngelo Montoya of shooting and killing 21-year-old Angel Vale on July 22.

Wednesday, Portales police arrested 16-year-old Erick Pina and 17-year-old Alberto Ramirez on charges of murder in Sunday’s slaying of Jose Alfredo Charize Montoya, 25.

More arrests are expected in the case.

Pina, Ramirez and DeAngelo Montoya are from Roosevelt County.

“We are seeing people come into the office much younger than we used to for much more serious offenses,” said Portales Police Chief Jeff Gill.

In 30 years of law enforcement, he said, he doesn’t remember seeing young people commit serious crimes at the current rate. Gill said he didn’t know why the increase was occurring.

This is not a new trend, said criminal defense attorney Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso.

“The number of juveniles (16 and 17) committing crimes seems to be increasing over several years,” Mitchell said. “The public demands there is an increase of (punishment for) juvenile delinquency. As a result of that demand, the state has enacted harsher punishment for juveniles committing crimes.”

Mitchell said having worked criminal defense cases for juveniles across New Mexico, he has researched the issue and juvenile crimes. Mitchell said he, as many others, is trying to determine if there is a set cause or reason for the juvenile crimes.

“There is no definite answer,” Mitchell said. “There are no statistics available to identify a specific cause.”

Mitchell said some have looked at the immediate access to information juveniles have, such as the Internet.

He said violent video games and the dynamics of the family structure have also been reviewed.

“Some would say the juveniles have too much free time,” Mitchell said. “A youth who does not work or participate in an extracurricular activity has a lot of time to get into trouble.”

Mitchell said there is no one study that can account for the cause for juvenile crimes.

“There is no question that a majority of the crimes being committed are by those under the age of 25,” Mitchell said.

However, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office has had a different experience, Sheriff Darren Hooker and Chief Deputy Malin Parker agreed.

“We personally haven’t seen an influx of juvenile crime,” Parker said.

Hooker said his office deals with little to no violent juvenile crime, with most juvenile offenses being things such as minor in possession of alcohol.

Portales Junior High School Principal Steve Harris said he hadn’t seen an increase in discipline problems.

“I’ve been doing this 13 years, and I haven’t seen it get any worse as far as violence or anything like that,” he said.

In school, Harris said, children from all parts of society are thrown together. Every year has a different set of circumstances and problems, but there is no long-term trend, he said.

“Kids are kids,” Harris said. “They’re going to make mistakes, and sometimes kids make mistakes that are volatile.”

He considers the cases of DeAngelo Montoya, Pina and Ramirez to be anomalies.

First Baptist Church Youth Minister Chris Horton also said he didn’t think juvenile violence was a trend.

“We’ve seen incidences like this from the beginning of time,” he said, adding that immorality has been part of human DNA since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Horton said he didn’t think juvenile violence has become more prevalent, but has been publicized more through media and 24-hour news.

Humans may kill to get what they want or to protect their immoral behavior, he said.