February 16, 2023

Senate Republican pushes ‘Monique’s Law’ to review inmate calls before release

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require the state Corrections Department to review all phone calls made or received by an inmate in his or her final 90 days in prison — an apparent nod to one of the biggest controversies during last year’s gubernatorial election.

Senate Bill 451 also would require the state Parole Board to audit a prisoner’s earned good-behavior deductions to ensure he or she is eligible to get out of prison early.

A similar proposal was pitched by Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti during the 2022 campaign as he attempted to paint Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as being soft on crime. 

The bill, introduced by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, even has the same title Ronchetti used: “Monique’s Law.”

The measure is named after Domonique “Monique” Gonzales, who in 2021 was killed by a former boyfriend, Christopher Beltran, after he was released from prison early for the second time.

Beltran had made threatening phone calls to Gonzales before he was released. 

In an interview, Pirtle said inmate phone calls are monitored and “we just have to put the legwork in to listen to these calls and make sure inmates being paroled early will not be an immediate threat or wish to cause harm to people from their past.”

He said “it is a prudent step we can take” in probation and parole practices. 

Pirtle said he had not discussed the bill with Ronchetti or family members of Gonzales. 

Beltran initially was released from prison 12 days early in September 2020. He was arrested the following month for violating the conditions of his parole and sent back to prison for a 2½-year sentence.

He served about nine months of that stint. Four days after his release in June 2021, Beltran shot and killed Gonzales in Roswell. He has since pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and faces up to 12 years in prison.

Questions remain about why Beltran was released early the second time. While 5th Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce has said the governor’s administration miscalculated when awarding Beltran good time for his sentence, the state Department of Corrections contends he was released after completing the entirety of his sentence, which included a reduction of nearly five months for good time.

SB 451 also requires the Parole Board to webcast parole hearings live online.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee for consideration.