New Mexico Candidate Indicted in Drive-By Shooting Case

New Mexico Candidate Indicted in Drive-By Shooting Case
Solomon Pena (C), a Republican candidate for New Mexico House District 14, is taken into custody by Albuquerque Police officers in southwest Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 16, 2023. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
The Associated Press
Updated:
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A political newcomer who lost his bid for the New Mexico statehouse has been indicted on charges of allegedly orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic officials.

A Bernalillo County grand jury returned a 14-count indictment Monday against Solomon Peña, prosecutors said. The counts include criminal solicitation to commit shooting at a dwelling, shooting at a dwelling, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, and possession of a firearm by a felon.

The 39-year-old felon remains in custody after a judge last week ordered him to be held without bond pending trial.

Detectives identified Peña as their key suspect using a combination of cellphone and vehicle records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected at the lawmakers’ homes.

Authorities arrested Peña on Jan. 9, accusing him of paying for a father and son and two other unidentified men to shoot at the officials’ homes between early December and early January. The shootings followed his unsuccessful Republican bid for a district long considered a Democratic stronghold. He claimed the election was rigged.

No one was hurt, but the case reignited the debate over whether lawmakers should make it harder for people accused of violent crimes to make bail. Lawmakers during this legislative session also are considering a measure that would shield the home addresses of elected officials.

Solomon Peña listens as Judge David Murphy orders the defendant to remain behind bars during a court appearance in Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 23, 2023. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
Solomon Peña listens as Judge David Murphy orders the defendant to remain behind bars during a court appearance in Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan. 23, 2023. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

Prosecutors have outlined Peña’s previous time in prison and described him as the “ringleader” of a group that he assembled to shoot at people’s homes, saying ballistics testing determined that a firearm found in the trunk of a car registered to Peña was linked to at least one shooting. Another man was found driving that car and was arrested on an unrelated warrant.

Peña’s defense attorney has raised questions about the credibility of a confidential witness that shared information with authorities, saying some of the statements used in a criminal complaint were contradictory. She also argued her client’s criminal history did not involve any violent convictions or crimes involving firearms and that he has not been in trouble with the law—other than two traffic citations—since his release from prison in 2016.

Court records show Peña was incarcerated for several years after being arrested in 2007 in connection with what authorities described as a smash-and-grab burglary scheme that targeted retail stores. His voting rights were restored after he completed probation in 2021.

By Susan Montoya Bryan