Judge denies deferred sentence to ex-Belen Middle School teacher

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A former Belen Middle School teacher will have to learn to live with the descriptor of "convicted felon" attached to his name.

Last week, District Court Judge William Sanchez denied a motion for a deferred sentence for Manuel G. Martinez III.

In June, Martinez was sentenced to three years of supervised probation for two felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Sanchez sentenced Martinez to 18 months with the New Mexico Department of Corrections on each count, but suspended the entire sentence.

The 42-year-old Los Lunas resident pleaded no contest in March to charges that he convinced a 15-year-old girl, a former student, to send provocative photos of herself to him via text message.

Los Lunas police arrested Martinez last March after officers sent text messages from the girl's phone to make him believe he was inviting the girl out for drinks.

On Tuesday, Martinez's attorney, Thomas Esquibel, asked the court to reconsider the original sentence, requesting a deferred sentence for his client.

"He has been compliant with all the requirements of the court," Esquibel said. "He has surrendered his teaching certificate, completed counseling, done community service. And he has been actively trying to obtain employment. With a felony conviction, his employability is at zero."

Esquibel asked Sanchez to consider entering a deferred sentence for Martinez, so on job applications in the future, Martinez would not have to indicate his felony conviction. The attorney did say most job applications also require applicants to indicate if they are under a deferred sentence, as well.

A deferred sentence refers to a postponed, or delayed sentence in a criminal matter. The court gives a defendant an opportunity to complete a probationary period before sentencing. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the court will review the defendant's file and may dismiss the charges against him or her.

If the defendant does not follow all of the terms and conditions of probation, the court may enter the conviction and sentence the defendant accordingly.

Depending on the jurisdiction, a person may or may not have a permanent record of the crime on their criminal record after a successful completion of the probationary period and subsequent dismissal of the charges.

After his sentencing in June, Martinez's attorney at the time, John Allred, was denied a request for a conditional discharge for his client, which would have meant the felony conviction could be removed from Martinez's record after he completed his probation.

Esquibel said his client had no interest in being around underage or teenage girls. The attorney said he received a letter from the victim's father, saying (the father) didn't want to see another girl subjected to the same things as his daughter.

"I understand his concern, having a daughter of my own," Esquibel said. "I would ask you to take into consideration that Mr. Martinez is essentially a ward of the state — he is on food stamps and welfare.

"He is trying to be a productive citizen. He does acknowledge the severity of his actions and has deep remorse."

Martinez addressed the court, saying he knew the case has been a "tremendous burden on everyone involved." He said his wife was working part time and he was receiving unemployment.

"I would like to re-enter the workforce so I can support my wife and three kids. I completely understand my actions were wrong," Martinez said. "I would like the opportunity to support my family, pay my debts and not get in a worse situation."

Martinez said he was offered two jobs in Albuquerque, but the companies decided not to hire him after discovering his felony conviction.

"I wanted to express how sorry I am for all the trouble this has caused everyone," he said. "I voluntarily surrendered my teachers license, so public or private school is not an option in any way, shape or form."

Esquibel said what his client wasn't saying was during discussions, the attorney made it clear that Martinez's actions weren't an accident or a mistake, but "stupid, idiotic and the facts could lead someone to believe there could be a more dangerous situation in the future."

The attorney said Martinez was willing to accept responsibility for paying for any kind of counseling the victim needed "to heal."

Assistant District Attorney Anne Keener presented three photographs to Sanchez, reminding him that at the time of Martinez's arrest, he was over 40 years old and the victim was 15.

"He (Martinez) initiated the relationship by asking to be her friend on Facebook. He sent her texts offering to teach her to cuddle," Keener said. "It wasn't just stupid. It was a crime. We all do stupid things. They are not all crimes."

Keener argued that as a teacher, Martinez was in a position of authority and abused that authority.

"We have no idea where this would have gone," she said. "He got a huge opportunity by being placed on supervised probation with no time. He is no different than anyone else with a felony conviction. Everyone is having a tough time getting a job in this community.

"I'm sure it has been difficult for his family. It's also been difficult for the victim and her family."

On the matter of Martinez's offer to pay for the victim's counseling, Keener said he wasn't offering anything new, noting that he was already obligated to pay restitution for the victim's out-of-pocket expenses.

"We hold teachers to a higher standard," she said. "He, in no way, deserves anything more than the grace the court has already given."

Sanchez said Keener "said it all. These photos speak volumes. This is a very disturbing situation."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.