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Denish airs critical TV ad

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Democratic candidate for governor went on the attack against Republican candidate Susana Martinez

By Barry Massey

SANTA FE — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Diane Denish went on the attack Thursday with a television ad criticizing GOP candidate Susana Martinez’s record as a prosecutor.

Denish’s ad came quickly after Tuesday’s primary election and signaled that New Mexicans will see a hard-hitting campaign in the race for governor.

Martinez has been the district attorney in the 3rd Judicial District, which covers Dona Ana County, since 1997.

The ad said Martinez had the lowest conviction rate for murder cases of any district attorney during the past decade.

“Susana Martinez won the Republican nomination with sound bites and empty promises, but in reality she’s been a failed district attorney who doesn’t deserve a promotion,” Denish campaign spokesman Chris Cervini said in a statement.

Martinez called the ad a “patently false attack against my record.”

The Denish campaign used state court data to calculate conviction rates for felony homicide cases — murder and manslaughter — handled by the state’s 13 district attorneys in the 1999-2009 fiscal years.

Martinez’s office averaged a 60 percent conviction rate during that time — indicating cases in the 3rd Judicial District Court that were closed through convictions or pleas by defendants, according to information released by the Denish campaign. Conviction rates for other prosecutors ranged from 81 percent to 61 percent.

Cases with no conviction were those in which charges were dismissed — at or before trial — or when a defendant was acquitted.

The Martinez campaign objected to how the state court data was used to calculate the conviction rate.

In some instances, cases may be dismissed and refiled later by a prosecutor or the defendant in a dismissed state case may be turned over to federal authorities for possible prosecution. Thoses cases, however, would contribute to a lower conviction rate under the calculations used for the Denish ad.

The Martinez campaign said there were 79 homicide cases in Dona Ana County from Jan. 1, 2000, until this month, ranging from murder to manslaughter. It released the names of the defendants.

Forty of those cases are pending and 39 have been closed, with 35 convictions in those — a rate of almost 90 percent. In the four cases in which there were no convictions — two were acquitted at trial, one was dismissed by the prosecutor after determining it was self-defense and one conviction was reversed on appeal, according to the Martinez campaign.

The Denish campaign defended its use of the court data and pointed to a 2004 article in the Las Cruces Sun-News in which Martinez cited state court statistics — the same source of information used for the ad — as the basis for a conviction rate for criminal cases handled by her office.

Denish’s ad also renewed criticisms made by the state Democratic Party last month that hundreds of felony drunken driving cases were closed through pleas by defendants. The ad alleged that Martinez “promised she wouldn’t give plea deals to felony drunk drivers.”

Martinez said in a 2004 newspaper story that her office would not plea bargain felony DWI cases. However, court data used in the Denish ad does not indicate whether defendants pleaded guilty to a felony charge or to a reduced misdemeanor DWI.

The Martinez campaign has said previously there have been “limited cases” in which a felony DWI charge was reduced because records or evidence wasn’t available to verify whether a defendant had enough previous drunken driving convictions to justify the felony charge.