Guilty Plea in Pilgrimage Killings

The stepson of a police lieutenant pleaded guilty today to murdering two high school sweethearts on a Good Friday pilgrimage.

Carlos Herrera, 20, of Espanola entered guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 17-year-olds Ricky Martinez and Karen Castanon.

The teenagers were shot April 21 as they walked along a highway near Chimayo, where Easter pilgrims annually trek to an old adobe church.

Ballistics tests confirmed that Herrera’s .22-caliber rifle was the murder weapon, and Herrera admitted in statements to investigators that he had killed the teenagers, District Attorney Henry Valdez said.

He said Herrera, whose stepfather is an Espanola police lieutenant, repeatedly told police that he did not know the two teenagers and did not know why he shot them.

‘A Horrible Mistake’ Each murder count carries a life sentence, with 30 years in prison before Herrera would be eligible for parole. He could have faced the death penalty if he had been tried and convicted.

Charges of kidnapping and tampering with evidence were dropped in the plea agreement. A judge will determine at sentencing whether the life sentences will run consecutively. A sentencing date has not been set.

“Carlos, he has to find God and find truth in his own self. He did a horrible mistake, and he has to pay for it,” said Raymond Martinez, Ricky Martinez’s father.

Ricky Martinez was shot on N.M. 76 about 4 miles east of Espanola. Castanon’s body was discovered a few hours later in a rugged area about 3 miles away. Espanola is about 25 miles north of Santa Fe.

Police said Herrera’s truck had gotten stuck near where Castanon’s body was found, and a friend helped him free it the day of the murders. The friend also took Herrera’s rifle for safekeeping at Herrera’s request, police said.

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