ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said Friday a review of years of case data in the state’s largest city has turned up dozens of sexual assault investigations in which evidence has been destroyed and prosecutors say those numbers are expected to grow.
One of those cases involved a reported rape of a teenager that had been dropped by local prosecutors after it was discovered that evidence collected in the wake of the 2013 crime had been destroyed.
After looking into the case at the request of the victim, special investigators with the attorney general’s office determined in August that there was enough of a DNA sample taken from the victim’s clothing to allow for more testing.
That resulted in the suspect, 34-year-old Eli Kronenanker of Albuquerque, being arrested late Thursday on charges of criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping, aggravated assault and witness intimidation. He also faces similar charges in a separate case being prosecuted by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
The attorney general’s office filed a motion Friday seeking that Kronenanker be held pending trial in the 2013 case.
“No conditions of release for this defendant will reasonably protect the safety of our community,” the motion reads.
Defense attorney Molly Schmidt-Nowara said she needs to see what evidence prosecutors plan to present before commenting on the cases.
Kronenanker was accused in 2013 of raping a 17-year-old girl he met after exchanging text messages. The victim told police the suspect held a gun to her head and ordered her to undress. He later told her not to tell anyone or he would kill her, according to court documents.
Another woman came forward in 2015. The evidence was preserved in that case, and district attorney spokesman Michael Patrick said prosecutors are moving ahead with that prosecution.
District Attorney Raul Torrez took office at the beginning of the year, inheriting a backlog of thousands of felony cases. The attorney who signed off on the evidence being destroyed in the 2013 case no longer works at the district attorney’s office, Patrick said.
The attorney general’s office said it has only begun reviewing case data from the city of Albuquerque that stretches back to 2014. It plans to share its findings with the district attorney and law enforcement to address cases that might have fallen through the cracks and identify ways to prevent in the future evidence in sexual assault cases from being prematurely destroyed.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said it’s important that the criminal justice system not re-victimize survivors.
“We must bring justice for survivors and victims whose cases fall through the cracks,” he said.
Prosecutors say it is possible more victims will come forward.
Torrez said he welcomes the attorney general’s review and hopes it is expanded to the state’s other judicial districts that are also underfunded and hampered by severely limited resources.
Torrez’s office is working with state lawmakers to secure more resources to deal with increasing crime rates and the magnitude of the caseload in Bernalillo County. About 25,000 cases are referred to the office annually and the backlog of unindicated cases Torrez inherited stands at about 8,000.
New Mexico, like other states, also is grappling with a backlog in the processing of DNA evidence kits from sexual assaults. The Office of the State Auditor spent the past year querying law enforcement agencies about their policies for handling the kits and found a lack of resources, training and unhelpful attitudes about the credibility of victims.