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New Mexico 'Spaceship' Theft Fails at Liftoff

Oct. 26--LAS CRUCES -- A felon and a convicted child rapist are facing theft charges after they were allegedly caught trying to steal a "spaceship" from a neighbor's yard.

Arturo Evan Cadena, 22, allegedly told a Do-a Ana sheriff's investigator he "was going to take the spaceship home for his child," according to court documents.

Cadena, who lives in Chamberino, had originally offered to pay 47-year-old Richard Chavez to help him clean the property and load trash in his truck, but then decided to ask Chavez to help him steal the battered aluminum craft from the rental property, on the 400 block of County Line Drive in Chaparral.

Assistant District Attorney Scot Key said the former amusement park ride, worth $4,000 to $5,000, is believed to be from the '50s or '60s, and "heavier than all get go."

"I'm sure it has some collectability and might be sought after for some -- who knows -- kid's toy on a playground, just any number of things, but it is an interesting item," Key said. "You don't run across those things too often, but ... we've been getting quite a few metal-type thefts, in general, in the outlying areas of Las Cruces: Anthony, Chaparral. Obviously, in this economy, copper, scrap metal, any number of things are a recurrent theme of thefts these days."

An anonymous tipster witnessed Cadena and Chavez loading sheets of steel and the dilapidated spaceship into a red truck on Oct. 7, according to court documents. When confronted, the two allegedly threw the metal and the

spaceship back over the fence and fled.

Chavez ultimately admitted to the sheriff's investigator that "he was aware of Art's intentions (in) taking the space ship and failed to report the incident," court documents state.

Investigators found tire tracks next to the fence line and impressions that matched Cadena's and Chavez's shoes, according to court documents.

The sheet metal and the spaceship were found near the fence.

A Do-a Ana County grand jury indicted the two Thursday on charges of conspiracy, felony larceny and criminal trespass. Chavez was also indicted on charges of taking steel refrigeration panels from the same victim, his neighbor, in June, according to court documents. He will enter a plea to the latest charges 7:30 a.m. Monday before state District Court Judge Fernando Macias.

Both defendants have "significant criminal histories," according to their indictments. Cadena was convicted of aggravated assault against a household member with a deadly weapon and interference with communications in 2006 and criminal property damage, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, marijuana possession and aggravated drunken driving in 2008; he has also violated his probation six times.

Chavez has been convicted of trafficking marijuana, sexual assault, sexual assault against a child causing injury, residential burglary, resisting arrest, evading police, criminal mischief and several charges of drunken driving, according to court documents.

Key said while the crime is "probably the most unusual metal theft that we've had in the last few years," it might make a difficult exhibit in court, adding, "I don't want to have to carry it in the courtroom."

Ashley Meeks can be reached at (575) 541-5462; follow her on Twitter @AshleyMeeks.

Copyright 2011 - Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

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