Homeless slayings underscore dangers on the street

AP News
Posted: Jul 22, 2014 4:32 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The brutal slayings of two homeless men in Albuquerque underscores the vulnerability of transients, who prosecutors and police said Tuesday are often victimized but rarely report the crimes.

One of the teens charged with beating the men beyond recognition with cinderblocks, bricks and a metal pole told police the trio had attacked more than 50 other homeless people in recent months.

But police Tuesday said no one has come forward to report any potentially linked crimes, despite outreach to the community and the groups that work with transients.

Crimes against transients are historically underreported, Sgt. Simon Drobik said.

"It a very deep subculture, underground kind of lifestyle. They use street names. ... They are a hard population to reach. But they are victims, unfortunately," he said.

Meantime, prosecutors were preparing to seek first-degree murder indictments against all three teens, with the expectation of trying them together in adult court.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said the 15- and 16-year-old suspects have been charged as serious youthful offenders, meaning that if they are indicted on the first-degree murder charges they will be tried alongside the 18-year-old suspect in adult court.

However, because the two are minors, a judge will have more leeway in sentencing if they are convicted.

First-degree murder convictions carry a mandatory life sentence for adults.

Eighteen-year-old Alex Rios and the two younger suspects are charged with attacking three homeless men as they slept Friday night in a lot that was a regular camping ground for transients in southwest Albuquerque.

The suspects' lawyers and families declined comment after their initial court appearance Monday. Rios is being held in the county jail, while the younger suspects are in juvenile custody, Brandenburg said.

According to a criminal complaint, the 15-year-old said the trio had been terrorizing homeless people around the city for about year, but they had never gone that far.

Brandenburg called it a "hateful act" against a vulnerable population.

"It boggles all of our minds," she said.

Linda Fuller, director of St. Martin's Hospitality Center, a day shelter, told the Albuquerque Journal that violence among the homeless "has been happening for the 18 years that I've been here. But the public doesn't hear about it until somebody dies."

In June, a homeless woman was killed while sleeping on a sidewalk near a rescue mission when struck by a pickup truck that police said they believed purposely veered onto the sidewalk. The driver has not been identified.

A lot of the violence against homeless people happens while they're sleeping, "so even if they wanted to, they couldn't recognize or identify anyone," Fuller said.

A 52-year-old homeless man, Cecil Riggs, told the newspaper he frequently hears from other homeless people about "how they got hit or were beat up or were robbed and they're scared to be out here."

Andrew Gonzales, who has been homeless since 1996, said he sleeps next to a gravestone in a cemetery.

"My friends tell me it's creepy and ask if I'm afraid to be sleeping there with all those dead people," said Gonzales, 59. "I tell them it's not the dead ones you have to worry about."