New Mexico – The New Mexico Supreme Court late Friday halted the death-penalty phase of the case against an Albuquerque man convicted of killing a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy.
That hearing had been set for Jan. 10 during which a newly seated jury would decide whether Michael Paul Astorga should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.
Astorga was found guilty in June of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and possession of a firearm by a felon in the March 2006 shooting death of Deputy James McGrane Jr.
The state Supreme Court has given county District Attorney Kari Brandenburg until Dec. 27 to respond to a petition from Astorga's lawyer. Defense attorney Gary Mitchell contends the repeal of the state's death-penalty law was tailored unconstitutionally to exclude Astorga.
KRQE-TV says the state Supreme Court now is likely to review the petitions and then set a date for Mitchell and prosecutors to present oral arguments in Santa Fe.
Information from: KRQE-TV, http://www.krqe.com
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.