Failed GOP candidate accused in shootings at Democratic officials' homes pleads not guilty

ByKyung Lah and Taylor Romine, CNNWire
Friday, February 3, 2023
Ex-GOP candidate arrested in shootings at New Mexico lawmakers' homes
Medina described Pena as the "mastermind" of what appears to be a politically-motivated criminal conspiracy leading to four shootings at or near the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators between early December and early January.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The failed GOP candidate accused of coordinating the shootings at Democratic officials' homes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, pleaded not guilty Friday.

The video in the media player is from a previous report.

Solomon Peña entered the plea through his attorney Roberta Yurcic at an arraignment hearing. Both appeared via teleconference.

Peña was indicted by a grand jury on 14 counts of shooting and firearms charges, the Bernalillo County District Attorney's office announced in a statement Monday.

He is currently in jail awaiting trial after being accused of hiring and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners following his 2022 state House election loss, as a GOP candidate.

Peña was charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, two counts of conspiracy to commit shooting at a dwelling or occupied building and two counts of transportation or possession of a firearm or destructive device by certain persons, among other charges, the district attorney's office said.

CNN has contacted Peña's attorney for comment.

After losing the November election to the Democratic candidate but before the shootings, Peña showed up uninvited at the homes of a legislator and some county commissioners, claiming fraud had been committed in the vote, according to police.

MORE: Ex-GOP candidate arrested in series of drive-by shootings at lawmakers' homes in New Mexico

According to Albuquerque police, Democratic officials whose homes were shot at included Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, newly installed state House Speaker Javier Martinez, and State Sen. Linda Lopez, among others.

No one was injured in any of the shootings, which included at least one bullet flying through a child's bedroom while she was inside, police have said.

A judge ruled last week that Peña must remain in jail as he awaits trial, saying Peña poses a threat to the targets of the shootings and their family members. Peña also has a history of felony convictions involving property crimes and the use of stolen vehicles, mirroring the tactics police say were used in the shootings in December and early January, the judge pointed out.

Peña provided the guns used in the shootings and suggested the use of stolen cars to avoid being identified and was present at the fourth and final shooting, an investigator said at last week's detention hearing.

Albuquerque Police Detective Conrad Griego, citing a confidential witness, alleged that Peña had complained that at least one of the shootings occurred too late at night and bullets were fired too high into the house, decreasing the chances of hitting the target.

"He's providing the firearms. He is helping other individuals come up with a plan," including using stolen vehicles, Prosecutor Natalie Lyon said.

Yurcic argued that Peña was never found to be in possession of a firearm, and sought to cast doubt on the credibility of the confidential witness.

What we know about the shootings

False and unfounded claims about election fraud have exploded nationwide in recent years and fueled anger and threats of violence against elected officials -- even in local politics.

Peña lost his race to Democratic state Rep. Miguel Garcia 26% to 74% on November 8, 2022. A week later, he tweeted he "never conceded" the race and was researching his options.

According to Albuquerque police, Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa's home was shot at multiple times on December 4, incoming state House Speaker Javier Martinez's home was shot at on December 8, former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley's home was shot at on December 11 and state Sen. Linda Lopez's home was shot at on January 3.

Peña's arrest warrant affidavit identifies two of the alleged co-conspirators as Demetrio Trujillo and José Trujillo. According to a relative, Demetrio is José's father.

"There is probable cause to believe that soon after this unsuccessful campaign, he (Peña) conspired with Demetrio, José, and two brothers, to commit these four shootings at elected local and state government officials' homes," Albuquerque police wrote in the affidavit. "Solomon provided firearms and cash payments and personally participated in at least one shooting."

Albuquerque police said they were investigating whether Peña's campaign was funded in part by cash from narcotics sales that were laundered into campaign contributions.

Police say José Trujillo, who donated $5,155 to Peña's failed campaign and listed his occupation as "cashier," was arrested on January 3 -- the night of the last of four shootings -- on an outstanding felony warrant.

A Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy found him with more than $3,000 in cash, nearly 900 narcotics pills worth roughly $15,000 and two guns, one of which was matched through ballistics to that day's shooting, police said. He was stopped driving Peña's car, said a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Attempts to reach attorneys for the Trujillos were not successful.

Peña previously served almost seven years in prison after a 2008 conviction for stealing a large volume of goods in a "smash and grab scheme," CNN affiliate KOAT reported.

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