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Suspect in Slayings of 7 in New Mexico Could Face Death : Crime: Ricky Abeyta is arraigned on three counts of murder. More charges are expected to be filed this week.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ricky Abeyta, believed by authorities to be responsible for the worst mass slaying in modern New Mexico history, was arraigned before a Rio Arriba County magistrate Monday on three murder counts that could result in the death penalty.

Prosecutors said additional murder charges are expected to be filed this week stemming from Saturday’s massacre of seven people, including two law enforcement officers and a 5-month-old boy.

Court papers released Monday appeared to confirm authorities’ initial contention that the bloody rampage was the culmination of a domestic dispute.

According to the documents, one of Abeyta’s alleged victims--an estranged girlfriend--had days earlier won a court order to keep him from bothering her. She had told a judge that he had shot at her.

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Also arraigned Monday on lesser felony charges stemming from the massacre were two of Abeyta’s sisters, Dora, 35, and Sandra, 19. Dora was charged with attempted murder. Sandra was charged with aggravated battery.

Abeyta, 28, a self-employed carpenter from nearby Chimayo, appeared somber as Magistrate Richard C. Martinez ordered him to be held without bail and urged Abeyta “to reflect on the lives” lost.

“It saddens me, yet it also sickens me when domestic violence . . . results in such violent acts which eventually take the lives of human beings, especially those of innocent children,” Martinez said.

The mustachioed Abeyta was charged with the shooting deaths of Ignacita Vasquez Sandoval, 36, his estranged girlfriend; Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Martinez, 30, who had been in the process of delivering the temporary restraining order that Sandoval had obtained, and State Police Sgt. Glen Huber, 35, who had been called in to assist Martinez.

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Also killed in the late-afternoon attack at the Abeyta family property were Sandoval’s daughter, Maryellen, 19; Maryellen’s boyfriend, Macario Gonzales, 18; their 5-month-old son, Justin Gonzales, and Sandoval’s sister, Cheryl Rendon, 24.

Sandoval’s son, Eloy, 13, was wounded, and several others who were inside the couple’s mobile home during the attack jumped outside to escape.

In appealing for a restraining order to keep Abeyta away from her, Sandoval alleged that the defendant had fired three gunshots toward her and her car last Wednesday. She told domestic violence hearing officer Carol J. Vigil that Abeyta had become angry when she told him he was moving out of their home, according to court records.

After a 24-hour manhunt, Abeyta surprised authorities by turning himself in to state police at Albuquerque late Sunday. Police said Abeyta, who was not represented by an attorney in court Monday, made no statements to them about the case.

Abeyta’s brother-in-law, Manuel Sanchez, who accompanied the defendant to state police headquarters, said Abeyta had told him nothing.

“He just knocked on my door (in Bernalillo, a town near Albuquerque) . . . and just said he wanted to surrender,” Sanchez said.

The rampage has left New Mexico reeling.

“This has to have lasting impact,” said state Secretary of Public Safety Richard C de Baca. “We made history . . . it’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

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Community mental health official Barbara Martinez said: “Before this happened was the (Persian Gulf) war. Since the shootings I haven’t heard a thing about the war, and that tells me something. People already are under a lot of stress, and this is something else for them to endure.”

Chimayo is a small, clannish town in the rugged Sangre de Cristo foothills, 20 miles north of Santa Fe. It had been known primarily for its 175-year-old El Santuario de Chimayo church, where thousands of Catholic faithful come each year to pray and be healed.

Dirt in a hole in the church floor has been said for more than a century to possess miraculous curative powers.

The town of 2,500 is also known for the red chili peppers grown by its farmers.

Abeyta was said by authorities to possess a temper. In the past, state police said, he had been arrested--but never convicted--on a variety of charges, including aggravated assault, harassment by telephone and larceny.

Tearful family members, 20 of whom attended the late-afternoon arraignment, called Abeyta a quiet, even-tempered man.

“I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it,” said Sanchez, his brother-in-law. “When you get upset, you don’t realize what you’re doing. . . . He was probably provoked.”

William Diven in Chimayo, N.M., contributed to this story.

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