When Rita Montero was conducting her campaign for the Denver Public Schools board this spring, voters in northwest Denver heard all about her qualifications for the job and her ideas for educational reform. Montero pledged to cut wasteful spending at DPS, boost parental participation and overhaul the district's bilingual-education program. She won the endorsement of the Rocky Mountain News, which called her a "standout" candidate whose ideas were "right on target." When the May 2 election rolled around, Montero had little trouble defeating her opponent, capturing 55 percent of the vote.

What voters didn't hear about during the race was Montero's ties to a group of Chicano radicals killed in a pair of mysterious car bombings in Boulder 21 years ago. Though Montero's relationship with the blast victims--who authorities believed died in a terrorist act gone awry--was widely publicized at the time, it never resurfaced publicly during the recent school-board campaign.

Montero, 44, denies involvement in the bombings, which left six people dead, pointing out that neither she nor anyone else was ever charged with a crime. And some observers say she seems to have mellowed somewhat politically in the years since. "What's the rationale for raising it at this point?" she asks when questioned about the incidents.

But news reports and interviews with law enforcement officials indicate that Montero had a more than peripheral connection with the case.

For example, Montero admits she was a close friend of several of the bombing victims, who police theorized blew themselves up accidentally while assembling timed explosive devices in their vehicles. The day after the second bombing, Montero tried to bluff her way into the hospital room of the lone survivor, claiming she was his sister. The day after that, police arrested Montero after a high-speed chase on the Boulder Turnpike; a subsequent search turned up an egg timer in the back of her car. And later she refused to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the bombings.

Montero says today that she's sure the people killed in the blasts were innocent--not the feckless revolutionaries state and federal authorities made them out to be. She faults police for focusing primarily on the victims themselves and not pursuing the possibility that they may have been murdered by someone else.

"They [the police] were only looking at those of us who were friends and family" of the victims, Montero says. "That was it...We felt that they were biased, and they had already made up their minds."

But law enforcement officials who remember the case say they remain convinced that Montero's friends had plans to use the bombs to conduct a campaign of political terror.

"There was never any question in my mind that they carried those bombs in," says Dave Stolz of the University of Colorado-Boulder campus police. Another law enforcement source familiar with the case says the idea that the victims were murdered "was never a credible theory."

The car bombings occurred against a backdrop of fear and racial tension in Boulder and throughout the metro area. The year before, Denver police killed a man in a confrontation at the headquarters of the Crusade for Justice, a left-wing Hispanic political organization. In February 1974, a bomb went off at Boulder's Flatiron Elementary School, causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage. The following month, dynamite blasts rocked the CU police department and the Hall of Justice on Boulder's Courthouse Square.

The first of the two car bombings took place the night of May 27, when a blast obliterated a car at Boulder's Chautauqua Park. Killed in the explosion were 25-year-old Reyes Paul Martinez, an Alamosa attorney; 20-year-old CU junior Neva Romero; and Una Jaakola, a 24-year-old CU graduate who was Martinez's girlfriend. Martinez was the younger brother of Franke "Kiko" Martinez, a then-fugitive Chicano lawyer who'd been charged with sending a series of mail bombs the previous year. (Franke Martinez was later acquitted of some charges; the others were dismissed.)

The second bomb exploded two days later inside a station wagon parked near a liquor store on 28th Street in Boulder. Three of the car's four occupants--32-year-old Florencio Granado, 22-year-old Francisco Dougherty and 24-year-old Heriberto Teran--died in the blast. The fourth, Antonio Alcantar, survived but suffered severe injuries, including the loss of his left leg.

"I had been good friends with all of them," Rita Montero acknowledges. Montero, who'd attended CU but left in 1972, says she'd met many through a campus organization called United Mexican-American Students (UMAS). Granado, a former president of UMAS, had been charged in the 1973 shooting of Richard Castro, director of Denver's West Side Action Center, and was out on a $10,000 bond at the time of the bombing. Teran had worked with Montero at the Colorado Pinto Project, a jobs program for ex-convicts.

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Arthur Hodges