ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A man who was serving 39 years in prison for the deaths of two people in a remote cabin near Torreon was mistakenly released twice from prison this year, state corrections department officials said Wednesday.
Lawrence Nieto could have been released early again in September, but a new system to check the files of inmates caught the miscalculation in his release date, according to State Department of Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel.
“As unacceptable as it is, I’m glad we are uncovering this now,” Marcantel said.
Nieto had been let out of prison in March and August, but violated his parole both times and was sent back, department spokeswoman Cristina Rodda said.
The miscalculation occurred when Nieto successfully overturned his original convictions and multiple-life sentences.
[auth] In 2007, he pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree murder and a single count of armed robbery, receiving the 39-year sentence with credit for time served.
Rodda said Nieto still has about 10 years left on that sentence, which could be shortened with time earned for good behavior.
The new system for calculating inmates’ release dates went into effect in September, Rodda said.
News of Nieto’s early releases came as prison officials wrap up a statewide audit of inmate records following reports that a number of prisoners had been mistakenly released from prison.
Officials blamed short-staffing and an antiquated paper record-keeping system for tracking sometimes complicated formula changes to sentences. Since last month, prison officials have centralized some record keeping and have instituted new policies aimed at reducing early release mishaps.
Marcantel said he also intends to ask state lawmakers for legislation to streamline department records.
Nieto was one of four men convicted in the 1996 case that stemmed from the deaths of Ben Anaya Jr., 17; his girlfriend, Cassandra Sedillo, 23; and her two sons, Matthew Garcia, 3, and Johnny Ray Garcia, 4. Their bodies were found in April 1996 in the cabin in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque.
Anaya and Sedillo had been shot and the children, locked inside the cabin, died of thirst and hunger. A medical investigator concluded the adults died around Dec. 12, 1995, and the children died a few weeks later.
Nieto’s original conviction and sentence of four life terms was overturned based on a 1996 videotape that Nieto’s attorney said suggested Nieto was coerced into confessing.
The videotape vanished shortly after Nieto was interrogated, but an investigator for a co-defendant found it among 36 boxes of evidence.
Marcantel said the last thorough audit of inmate records was in 2006. Since then the department has seen around 25,000 inmates go through its system. Prison officials are currently combing through those records starting with inmates deemed to be the most dangerous.
Marcantel said he was glad that a new system caught the Nieto miscalculation before the same mistake was made again.
“To his misfortune, we had our new system in place,” said Marcantel. “He ain’t going anywhere.”
Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.