- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) - District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said Thursday he plans to seek the maximum punishment against a known gang member suspected of shooting and killing a Rio Rancho police officer during a traffic stop.

Martinez acknowledged that the criminal proceedings against Andrew Romero have just begun, but he said he plans to move as expeditiously as possible and eliminate any delays.

“We’re going to seek the maximum in this case and we’ll see where the jury will allow us to go,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Romero is facing multiple charges, including murder, in the Monday death of Officer Gregg Benner. If convicted, he could face a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

Martinez said the killing of a police officer can be considered as an aggravating circumstance by jurors when they weigh possible punishments after a defendant is convicted. That could lead to a life sentence with no parole.

Romero was ordered held Wednesday on a $5 million cash bond. His lawyers didn’t speak to reporters after his court appearance.

His girlfriend, Tabitha Littles, was charged Thursday with accessory to murder and fleeing a peace officer. She’s being held on a $1 million bond. It was not immediately clear if she had an attorney.

According to a criminal complaint, Romero acknowledged shooting at Benner but says he didn’t know whether he struck the officer.

Authorities have said Benner pulled over Littles after checking her license plate and realizing the registration didn’t match.

Littles told investigators she had been driving Romero around because he wanted to look for places to burglarize. She said she swerved to catch the officer’s attention because she was afraid Romero was going to shoot her, the complaint stated.

According to court documents, Romero allegedly told Littles as they were being pursued by Benner that “he wasn’t going back to jail” and that he was going to shoot the officer.

Littles was pushed from the vehicle and shot in the foot. Benner stopped briefly to check on her and then approached the vehicle. That’s when police say Romero shot him three times.

Littles said Benner managed to walk back over to her before collapsing. A resident and an off-duty paramedic heard the shooting and rushed to help, but Benner died at a hospital shortly afterward.

Romero was later arrested in Albuquerque’s South Valley after holding up a gas station, police have said.

Prosecutors say they expect the case to go before a grand jury within two to three weeks. Arraignments will follow.

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