Tara Calico and Deborah Lansdell, two Valencia County women who disappeared without a trace in the 1980s, now have something else in common.
As a result of a recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision, if the two women were victims of a first-degree felony, then those responsible for the felonies can be prosecuted, even though a 15-year statute of limitations was in existence at the time of the women's disappearances.
The court made the decision after considering the appeal of Nicholas Morales, who in 2005 was charged in Socorro County with raping a child between 1978 and 1985.
Morales argued that he could not be charged because the 15-year statute of limitations, which had been enacted by the Legislature in 1979, had expired.
In 1997, the Legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for all first-degree felonies.
According to the court's decision, July 1, 1982, was established as the date that the Legislature intended for the elimination of the statute of limitations for first-degree felonies.
"With this decision, we have 15 more years of the application of no statute of limitations (for first-degree felonies)," said District Attorney Lemuel Martinez. "The court applied it to 1982."
And thus, anyone linked to the disappearance of the two women can be prosecuted.
"The Legislature intended in the 1997 amendment that the most serious crimes do not escape prosecution based on a mere lapse of time from the commission of the offense and the commencement of prosecution," Martinez said of the Supreme Court's decision. "It looks like we have a little bit of retroactivity (in the court's decision)."
"I think that it's awesome," said Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera, who has actively investigated the Calico case for more than a decade. "I feel that these are cases that will be solved one day, and now we'll be able to prosecute."
Monday, Sept. 20, will be the 22nd anniversary of the disappearance of Calico, who as 19-years old when she left her home in Rio Communities in 1988 to take a routine bicycle ride along N.M. 47 and never returned.
The case received national attention when the story appeared on "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1989, and "America's Most Wanted" in 1993. A picture surfaced in a Florida parking lot in 1989 showing two people, both bound and gagged in a van. Calico's mother, Patty Doel, was convinced that the girl in the picture was Tara, giving Doel hope her daughter was still alive.
The girl in the picture was later determined by federal authorities not to be Calico.
In a case that received less attention, Lansdell, 29, a Peralta native, vanished on Sept. 21, 1985. She was living and working in Albuquerque at the time, and was first discovered missing by her boyfriend, who was going to help her move into a new apartment.
An inspection of her old apartment revealed that it appeared to have been broken into. Lansdell's car was subsequently found in an Albuquerque apartment complex parking lot.
There are four other Valencia County cold cases that are not subject to the Supreme Court decision because they were committed after 1997, and as such, were never exposed to the statute of limitations.
Eddie Verdugo and his girlfriend, Joyleen Chavez, were shot to death in Los Chavez in April 2004. Three members of a drug gang, who have been sentenced in other murders, were suspects in the murders of Verdugo and Chavez as well as the shooting death of Elizabeth Gonzales, of Belen, in December 2004. No one has been charged in these murders.
In April 2005, Gail Kaneshiro, a 47-year-old Belen woman, died of smoke inhalation in a fire that engulfed her mobile home. The fire was determined to have been intentionally set, but no one has been charged in setting the fire.
Two men were seen leaving an area near Garcia Street in Belen where James Garcia was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds in January 2006. No arrests in this murder have been made.
All of these cases would be subject to the death penalty if any of the necessary seven aggravating circumstances was determined to exist, Martinez said.
Contact Curt Gustafson