Taos County resident Aram Montoya was sentenced to life in prison, plus 21 years, after pleading guilty on Thursday (Aug. 26) to stabbing his wife last year and for his role in the murder of Joseph Morgas of Ranchos de Taos in 2019.
Montoya's plea completes one part of a complicated, yearlong investigation into Morgas’ death. After Montoya was arrested for aggravated battery against Desiree Lensegrav one year ago, Montoya implicated himself in the murder of Morgas, and alleged Lensegrav was the one who convinced him to do it. Morgas had been reported missing in 2019, but Montoya helped investigators locate his remains last year not far from Ranchos de Taos.
Montoya pleaded guilty to several charges in both cases before Chief Judge Emilio Chavez on Thursday, including first-degree murder and kidnapping in the Morgas case and aggravated battery in the case accusing him of stabbing Lensegrav. Charges for tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit murder in Morgas' slaying were dismissed by the court. A second aggravated battery charge and an assault charge in the stabbing case were also dropped.
Several members of Morgas' family made statements to the court. “It's my wish that every day he remember the evil and horrible deed he committed, because I know I will,” said Morgas’ mother.
Montoya also addressed the court. “I’m here and I’m willfully taking my sentence because I deserve it. And I probably deserve a lot more than that. If I could take my life to give his back to you guys I would,” said Montoya.
Montoya’s lawyer, Herman Chico Gallegos, said his client's admission of guilt and decision to not pursue a jury trial were unusual. He said he had “lost sleep” over the fact that Montoya wished to accept full responsibility. Due to the “unusual nature of his decision, competency was on my mind as his counsel,” Gallegos said, but added that it became clear to him that Montoya was competent in making his decision.
After the plea hearing ended, prosecutor Cosme Ripol told Morgas’ family that “the real villain is trying to avoid responsibility,” referring to Lensegrav. “We’re not done yet,” he said.
Taos County Undersheriff Steve Miera said he was pleased with the outcome of the plea. He acknowledged that Montoya accepting all guilt was “a little bit unusual,” but said “in this case, justice was served.” He said he believes the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office will pursue the charges against Lensegrav “head on.” Miera said his office and New Mexico State Police worked closely on the investigation into Morgas' murder.
Montoya said Lensegrav was the "shot caller" behind Morgas' death. She is set for a jury trial on Sept. 27 at 9 a.m. before Judge Chavez.