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Albuquerque police charge suspect in decades-old cold case

August 20, 2021 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque police have charged a suspect in the death of a University of New Mexico student who was stabbed near campus more than 30 years ago, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.

The parents of Althea Oakeley established a scholarship in her name after she was killed while walking home from a fraternity party on June 22, 1988. She was stabbed four times and collapsed on a neighbor’s doorstep, later dying at the hospital, police said.

The suspect remained a mystery for decades until police recently interviewed a man in another matter who confessed to killing a young woman in the 1980s near the university in Albuquerque, the Journal reported.

Paul Apocada, 53, was charged with murder Thursday after he confessed to the killing at the Metropolitan Detention Center where he had been held for about a month on a probation violation, according to the newspaper.

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Police were scheduled to provide more details on the case Thursday on what would have been Oakeley’s 55th birthday. But authorities postponed a news conference after three Albuquerque officers were shot and another was injured while responding to a robbery.

The Journal cited a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court that said Apodaca told detectives he was working at the Technical Vocational Institute — now Central New Mexico Community College — as a security guard when he saw Oakeley walking home on the night of June 22, 1988, and ended up stabbing her in the shoulder blade and left side.

According to the complaint, he said he left his watch — one with a sun and a moon on it that his aunt had given him — at the scene, and a watch that matched that description was found near the blood trail.

Court records indicate Apodaca pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in March and was sentenced to supervised probation for three years. He was arrested on a probation violation on July 20.

The Law Offices of the Public Defender was representing Apodaca on his probation violation case.

“As the case proceeds tomorrow, we will check to determine if there are any conflicts of interest and either represent Mr. Apodaca directly or appoint a contractor to represent him,” LOPD spokeswoman Maggie Shepard told the Journal on Thursday.

Albuquerque police Chief Harold Media was among those who delivered the news about the latest in the investigation to Oakeley’s parents in Taos. The meeting was emotional and bittersweet, he said.

Oakeley once was in the running for Taos Fiesta queen, and Medina’s mother was fashioning the girl’s elaborate dress. Medina remembered the girl with the bubbly personality who always said “Hi” to him.

The police chief also was the first recipient of the scholarship named for Oakeley after he graduated from Taos High School in 1990.

“It’s tough because it’s reopening old wounds,” Medina said. “But at the same time, there’s also that fear like, ‘God, we got to get a conviction on this.’”

Medina told the Journal that Oakeley didn’t know her attacker, but he lived and worked in the area. .