Friday, May 21, 2010

A History of Violence

 by Kathryn Casey

"As a close family member to the killer, in his defense the act he committed was and is not expected. We tried to get him help but as a grown man there is only so much a person can do to help someone. Now he has destroyed so many people’s lives. Our hearts do go out to the other families. We have never been on this side of the law, and we have so much mixed emotions. Ralph has a lot of good in him. It's shocking to many people that knew Ralph that he would do this, but he is sick and he hide it well. And yes, the laws should be different to protect anyone. Ours prayers go to the two young girls now left without a mother."

The above comment was under a March 9th piece on an Albuquerque, N.M., television station Web site. The news article above it was titled: UNM mourns Murder Victims. UNM is the University of New Mexico, and the victims being mourned were long-time English professor Hector Torres (photo above), a popular, soft-spoken educator with a good sense of humor who enjoyed the occasional beer with friends, and Stefania Gray (photo below right), a 43-year-old high school teacher, a graduate student and the mother of two daughters. The author of the comment identified him or herself only as a guest to the site.

First some background: Torres and Gray were found slain in Torres's Albuquerque apartment a day earlier, March 8th. Accused of the crime is Gray’s former boyfriend, Ralph Montoya (photo below left), 37. According to an Associated Press article, Montoya turned himself into his attorney the day after the murders, confessing to the crimes. He told police where to find the bodies. The kicker is that Montoya has a long history of violence toward women.

For more than a decade, Las Cruces and Rio Rancho women filed complaints against Montoya. In 1995, the charges were stalking, assault, attempted arson, and attempted breaking and entering. The complainant was a student at New Mexico State University, and Montoya pleaded guilty. His punishment: probation. Three years later, another Las Cruces woman swore out a restraining order against Montoya, charging that he had harassed her for months, making up to 20 threatening calls a day. Particularly eerie, there’d been sightings of him at her apartment window.

Then in 2005, another woman charged that Montoya harassed her after they dated only briefly.

What seems obvious here is that Montoya didn’t take it well when a woman broke off a relationship. This isn’t a case where his victims didn’t follow through, where they failed to pursue their options. The women did what they could, filing police reports and getting restraining orders. So did Stefania Gray, little more than a month before her murder.

On January 28th, Montoya allegedly followed Gray to Torres’ apartment, pushing his way inside. Gray attempted to flee, but Montoya pushed and kicked her, pulling a knife. It was Torres who talked to Montoya, convincing him to leave. In response, Gray detailed the attack in a restraining order she obtained. She didn’t hold back, admitting she feared her ex-boyfriend, that she worried he could kill her and her children, perhaps also take vengeance against Torres. Days later, Montoya was charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault on a household member and aggravated burglary.

Not long ago, I wrote about the Yeardly Love murder, stressing how important it is for women to carry through with filing reports, going to the police, telling others when they've been threatened. This is the opposite circumstance. These women, including Gray, did what they were supposed to do: they identified the danger and alerted authorities. But in this case, like too many others, it didn't save lives. Why? The system let Gray down. The tragedy is that on the string of charges listed above, even with his violent history, Montoya was assessed a $100,000 bond, which meant he needed only $10,000 to be released from jail. Free to carry out his threats, on March 9 Montoya allegedly murdered Torres and Gray.

Does this case change my opinion? Should targets of abuse and/or threats keep quiet rather than alert authorities? No. It's important to form a paper trail. Gray did the right thing. The blame lies with those who released Montoya to walk the streets, and, it appears, made no attempt to protect Gray and Torres. Montoya is now being held on a $2 million bond, but why did it take two murders for this man, who was known to be dangerous, to get law enforcement's full attention?

What also caught my eye about this case was the above comment from one of Montoya’s family members. "It's shocking to many people that knew Ralph that he would do this, but he is sick and he hide it well." The person who wrote the post also says: "We tried to get him help but as a grown man there is only so much a person can do to help someone."

I only know the little bit I’ve read about this case. I don’t know if Montoya is truly mentally ill or simply unable to take no for an answer, to let a girlfriend who rebuffs him walk away. I'm inclined to believe it's the latter, but if Montoya is mentally ill, does his condition fit the legal definition of insanity? Should his mental health mitigate his alleged crimes? Those are questions for a judge and jury to answer.

The facts of this specific case aside, what is indisputable is that it is too hard for families to get help for loved ones suffering from mental illness. Laws intended to help the mentally ill are backfiring, and good people like Stefania Gray and Hector Torres are paying the price.

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