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Trial set for New Mexico candidate in drive-by shooting case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A political newcomer who lost his bid for the New Mexico Statehouse is scheduled to be tried early next year on charges of allegedly orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic officials.

A judge issued an order Tuesday that charts a course for the case of Solomon Peña, scheduling a potential pretrial evidentiary hearing for November followed by a two-week trial in early January.

The 39-year-old felon remains in custody after being indicted on 14 counts that 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 charges stem from shootings that occurred between early December and January. 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 also are considering a bill that would shield from the public the addresses of elected officials.

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.

Peña's defense attorney has raised questions about the credibility of a confidential witness who shared information with authorities, saying some of the statements used in a criminal complaint were contradictory. She also has argued that 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.

Court documents show more time is be granted to prepare for trial, with the court citing extensive discovery that will include electronic evidence and the high volume of witnesses who will need to be interviewed.

The list of potential witnesses includes dozens of police officers, forensic experts and some of the elected officials whose homes were shot at.

Authorities said the shootings began Dec. 4, when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, state Rep. Javier Martinez's home was targeted. On Dec. 11, more than a dozen rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley.

The final related shooting, targeting state Sen. Linda Lopez's home, unfolded in the midnight hour of Jan. 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired, including three that Lopez said passed through her daughter's bedroom.