Albuquerque Tribune

Editorial

January 8, 2005

 

 

MCCRACKEN CASE MUST LEAD US TO MAKE CHANGES

 

The end - in dismissal of all charges - of the almost-decade-old murder case against former State Police Lt. Mark McCracken likely means the public never will know for certain what happened to his wife, Melanie McCracken.

 

That uncertainty aside, the public also might never know whether justice has been served.

 

Melanie McCracken, her family, Mark McCracken and all other New Mexicans deserve better than a lingering cloud of speculation.

 

The evidence in this case and in the court ruling ending it suggests it is time to reform New Mexico State Police regulations to ensure its officers are not - and are never thought to be - above public accountability.

 

At the minimum, Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislature should consider establishing mandatory independent investigative procedures that require outside and credible investigation when state officers are potential suspects.

 

At best, state officials should consider establishing a completely independent state bureau of investigation, such as those created in several other states. That not only would allow an arms-length investigation of cases in which State Police officers might be under suspicion, but it also could provide highly dedicated, professional investigative capabilities for the State Police, the state's counties and its many small cities and communities - including internal affairs investigations in any of New Mexico's many local police agencies.

 

This not only would ensure a greater measure of justice, but it would significantly raise the bar of credibility for law enforcement across the state.

 

Melanie McCracken died in 1995 of an undetermined cause. Her husband was a State Police sergeant at that time. The investigation into her death, to say the least, was poorly handled by State Police, who really had no business investigating a case of such highly suspicious circumstances, in which one of their own could have been a suspect.

 

The McCracken case is among those that cry out for independent, credible and definitive investigation - in short, justice.

 

In dismissing murder and tampering-with-evidence charges against Mark McCracken on Dec. 30 in Albuquerque, state District Judge David Bonem ruled "the state of the evidence at this time," including Melanie McCracken's remains, were insufficient to support the charges against Mark McCracken.

 

But Bonem suggested what many people outside the State Police fear - that the case was bungled.  He rightly observed, "I believe it is clear to all that the failure to involve an independent agency early on to conduct the investigation was not provident. Hopefully, the lesson has been learned."

 

New Mexicans should not assume it has. They should press the Legislature and Richardson to implement reforms to assure New Mexicans that justice will prevail in cases with such questionable circumstances.  New Mexicans need to have trust in their law enforcement and judicial systems, which should operate in the bright light of day, not under a shroud of suspicion.