Sandoval agrees to tentative plea

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Staff Report

Tucumcari’s Robert Sandoval has entered a tentative plea agreement relating to arson charges from last year.

Chico Gallegos, Sandoval’s attorney, said Sandoval reached the deal with prosecutors on Friday.

He’s accused in setting fires that destroyed the Payless Motor Inn and an abandoned house on Sept. 3, 2014.

Gallegos said a tentative verbal plea agreement with special prosecutor Matt Chandler still has to be put into writing and reviewed and approved before any details can be released.

Thomas Benavedez, attorney for co-defendant and former Tucumcari police officer Dustin Lopez, could not reached for comment.

Attempts to reach Chandler also were unsuccessful.

It was not immediately clear if Lopez has accepted a similar plea agreement, or if he will proceed to trial for the arson charges on July 27 as scheduled.

Both Lopez and Sandoval had entered not guilty pleas to the charges on Dec. 15 before 10th Judicial District Judge Albert Mitchell in Tucumcari.

Chandler filed two additional charges of breaking and entering against Lopez and Sandoval on Dec. 3 in Quay County Magistrate Court before the cases were bound over to district court.

Sandoval and Lopez were charged on Oct. 28 with arson and conspiracy to commit arson.

The three buildings on the Payless Inn property, all of which were destroyed in the blaze, were valued at $155,155.

Lopez resigned Oct. 2 from the Tucumcari Police Department, the day after New Mexico State Police searched his home.

Lopez did not give a reason for his decision to resign, said Tucumcari Police Chief Jason Braziel.

State police received information there was evidence on Lopez’s cell phone connecting him and four others with a series of arson fires set in Tucumcari in September.

A third defendant, Dani J. Martinez,  has pleaded not guilty but no trial date has been set for the arson charges against her.

All three remain free on bond.

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