Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

  • Joshua Gutierrez  pleaded guilty ahead of a grand jury indictment
  • The plea sets his sentence at 12 years, but final acceptance is at the discretion of the sentencing judge
  • He pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm

See past stories or the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A To’Hajiilee man pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for fatally shooting another man in an early-morning incident on March 29, 2020, on the reservation.

Joshua Gutierrez, 21, appeared via Zoom from a Cibola County detention center before Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information and set sentencing before a District Court judge at an undetermined time.

According to the plea deal, it is binding and Gutierrez will be sentences to 12 years. Final acceptance of the plea was deferred until sentencing by the district court judge, according to the form minutes.

Federal agents charged Gutierrez with murder in the death of Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 30, and Gutierrez has been in detention since.

The Route 66 Casino. Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr. CC-BY-SA

Gutierrez was staying at his girlfriend’s house on March 29 in To’Hajilee when guests of his girlfriend’s father including Platero, identified as “John Doe” in charging documents, and Platero’s brother, identified as “MK” began to scuffle, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Jaros said. Jaros signed the plea deal.

“My girlfriend entered the room and told them to leave,” Jaros said, reading aloud the facts of the case from Gutierrez’s point of view. “Shortly thereafter I armed myself with a handgun and began walking down the hallway. John Doe exited the room. As we passed each other in the hallway, John Doe swung at me. I shot John Doe in the chest.”

Gutierrez pointed the firearm at MK and another witness, JL, telling them, “I’ll shoot you too!” according to MK, FBI agent Dibiassi Robinson’s affidavit for a criminal complaint alleged. JL allegedly told MK “he’ll do it!”

MK and JL drove Platero toward Albuquerque, dialing 911 and stopping at the Route 66 Casino, according to Robinson.

Gutierrez “fled” the house on foot, Robinson wrote, and was found at his own home 1 1/2 miles away.

Another man, JG, told Robinson that Gutierrez “confided in him that he had shot DOE,” he wrote.

“JG told GUTIERREZ to ‘lay down, the cops will be here,'” Robinson wrote.

After being read his Miranda rights, Gutierrez allegedly told investigators he shot John Doe because he attempted to “assault” him and that the gun he used was at JG’s house. A .380 caliber pistol and one spent cartridge were found at that house.

Gutierrez’s plea deal waives any claim of self-defense, Jaros said.

When Briones asked Gutierrez if he felt he had enough time to talk about the case with his public defender, Sylvia A. Baiz, Gutierrez said, “Yeah, somewhat.”

Briones asked Gutierrez several additional questions about Baiz’s representation in which Gutierrez responded positively. With the plea deal, Gutierrez waives any appeal attempts except on the grounds of his representation.

Baiz said Gutierrez reached the plea deal ahead of a grand jury indictment deadline, which she said would have brought additional charges against Gutierrez.

Jaros said Platero’s family listened into the hearing, and would speak at sentencing.

Gutierrez’s next hearing was not scheduled at the conclusion of the plea hearing.

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Wheeler Cowperthwaite contributed to this report.

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Joshua Gutierrez of To’Hajiilee charged with murder for allegedly shooting unidentified Native American man on March 29, 2020

  • One witness claimed he watched Joshua Gutierrez shoot the man in the chest
  • Gutierrez claimed the unidentified man “assaulted” him

Read the case write-up here

TO’HAJIILEE, N.M. — A 21-year-old To’Hajiilee man is being held without bail after federal agents charged him with murder for fatally shooting a man on March 29, 2020 on the reservation.

Federal Bureau of Investigations agents charged Joshua Gutierrez for killing the unidentified man, called John Doe in court documents, and identified as a Native American.

Exit to To’hajiilee. Photo by formulaone/Flickr.

FBI Agent Dibiassi Robinson wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that one witness said Gutierrez shot the man in the chest at a residence on the To’Hajiilee reservation and then threatened to shoot them while another heard the gunshot and was then threatened and a third claimed Gutierrez came to him after and confessed to the killing, before police arrived.

When Gutierrez spoke to investigators, he alleged he was attacked by the unidentified man, he wrote.

Witness JL told investigators that he was at an acquaintance’s house when Doe and another man, identified as MK, started arguing, then fighting. JL and Gutierrez went to school together, Robinson wrote.

“Doe and MK tussled for a few minutes before CP (year of birth 1987) ordered the group to leave the residence,” Robinson wrote. “CP is the current girlfriend of GUTIERREZ.”

John Doe and MK stopped briefly, then started “tussling” and being loud again, before John Doe and JL headed toward the front door, he wrote.

“JL indicated that as they approached the kitchen GUTIERREZ raised a handgun up, in his right hand, and fired one shot into the chest of DOE,” Robinson wrote. “JL made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe towards GUTIERREZ. While attempting to provide aid to DOE, JL explained that GUTIERREZ told him and MK to get out of the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words.”

Although Robinson wrote that JL “made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe,” he did not write if JL was asked about an alleged assault.

JL and MK placed pressure on the wound, loaded DOE into a car and drove toward Albuquerque. While on the way, JL called 911 while MK drove, he wrote.

They stopped at the Route 66 Casino, Robinson wrote.

MK told investigators that he started arguing and fighting with Doe while at an acquaintance’s house, then CP, Gutierrez’s girlfriend, ordered them to leave.

“MK stated DOE left the room and a few seconds later he heard a pop,” Robinson wrote. “MK exited the room and went to the kitchen of the residence where he saw DOE laying on the floor. MK inquired as to what DOE had done and why GUTIERREZ had to shoot DOE. As MK attempted to provide aid to DOE, GUTIERREZ ordered the group to leave the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words. JL informed MK ‘he’ll do it!'”

Robinson alleged Gutierrez “fled” the house, on foot. He was later found at his own house, 1 1/2 miles away.

Another man, JG, told Robinson that Gutierrez “confided in him that he had shot DOE,” he wrote.

“JG told GUTIERREZ to ‘lay down, the cops will be here,'” Robinson wrote.

After being read his Miranda rights, Gutierrez allegedly told investigators he shot John Doe because he attempted to “assault” him and that the gun he used was at JG’s house. A .380 caliber pistol and one spent cartridge were found at that house.

On March 31, 2020, Gutierrez appeared in Federal District Court for his initial appearance and was ordered held without bail. A release hearing is set for 9:40 a.m., April 2, according to court documents.

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Joshua Gutierrez: Llewyn Platero — 3-29-2020

Suspect: Joshua Gutierrez

Victim: Llewyn Platero, 36

Charges: Murder

Date of incident: March 29, 2020

Status: Guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter, discharging a firearm in the course of the crime.

Sentence: 12 years per the plea agreement, final acceptance to be made by the sentencing judge

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: To’Hajiilee, Bernalillo County

Federal magistrate case number: 20-mj-01001

Federal district case number: 20-cr-01867

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Prosecutor: Allison Jaros

Defense attorney: Sylvia Baiz

Plea judge: Magistrate Judge Paul Briones

Other judge: Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa

Sentencing judge: To be determined

 

Summary

Joshua Gutierrez, 21, of To’Hajiilee, allegedly shot and killed Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 29, 2020, at a house on the To’Hajiilee reservation. Although he claimed the man “assaulted him,” the one eye witness did not make the same assertion, according to court documents.

On Oct. 15, 2020, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 12 years. Sentencing has not been set.

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The incident

Photo of mesas
To’Hajiilee by Joel/Flickr. CC BY-NC

Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Dibiassi Robinson was called out to the Route 66 Casino at 5:29 a.m., March 29, 2020, for a possible homicide, although a Navajo Nation criminal investigator told him the alleged killing took place on the To’Hajiilee reservation.

Robinson wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that he spoke to two witnesses at the casino.

When Gutierrez spoke to investigators, he alleged he was attacked by Llewyn Platero, 36, he wrote. Platero is not identified in court records and referred to as Doe or John Doe.

Witness JL, at the casino, told investigators that he was at an acquaintance’s house when Platero and another man, identified as MK, started arguing, then fighting. JL and Gutierrez went to school together, Robinson wrote.

“Doe and MK tussled for a few minutes before CP (year of birth 1987) ordered the group to leave the residence,” Robinson wrote. “CP is the current girlfriend of GUTIERREZ.”

Platero and MK stopped briefly, then started “tussling” and being loud again, before Platero and JL headed toward the front door, he wrote.

“JL indicated that as they approached the kitchen GUTIERREZ raised a handgun up, in his right hand, and fired one shot into the chest of DOE,” Robinson wrote. “JL made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe towards GUTIERREZ. While attempting to provide aid to DOE, JL explained that GUTIERREZ told him and MK to get out of the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words.”

Although Robinson wrote that JL “made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe,” he did not write if JL was asked about an alleged assault.

JL and MK placed pressure on the wound, loaded Platero into a car and drove toward Albuquerque. While on the way, JL called 911 while MK drove, he wrote.

They stopped at the Route 66 Casino, Robinson wrote.

MK, at the casino, told investigators that he started arguing and fighting with Doe while at an acquaintance’s house, then CP, Gutierrez’s girlfriend, ordered them to leave, he wrote.

“MK stated DOE left the room and a few seconds later he heard a pop,” Robinson wrote. “MK exited the room and went to the kitchen of the residence where he saw DOE laying on the floor. MK inquired as to what DOE had done and why GUTIERREZ had to shoot DOE. As MK attempted to provide aid to DOE, GUTIERREZ ordered the group to leave the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words. JL informed MK ‘he’ll do it!'”

Robinson alleged Gutierrez “fled” the house, on foot. He was later found at his own house, 1 1/2 miles away.

Another man, JG, told Robinson that Gutierrez “confided in him that he had shot DOE,” he wrote.

“JG told GUTIERREZ to ‘lay down, the cops will be here,'” Robinson wrote.

After being read his Miranda rights, Gutierrez allegedly told investigators he shot John Doe because he attempted to “assault” him and that the gun he used was at JG’s house. A .380 caliber pistol and one spent cartridge were found at that house.

On March 31, 2020, Gutierrez appeared in Federal District Court for his initial appearance and was ordered held without bail.

The autopsy

According to the autopsy report, Platero died from a single gunshot wound. The bullet went through his heart and lungs, causing a “large amount” of bleeding in the chest cavity.

Pathologists Karen Zeigler, a fellow, and Ross Zumwalt, the medical investigator, wrote in the report that there was no soot or gunpowder stippling near the wound or on the clothing and that the firing range is “indeterminate.”

The bullet was recovered from the right back.

“The overall trajectory was front to back, left to right and slightly downward,” they wrote.

Secret records

In a June 24, 2020 unopposed motion for a protective order, federal prosecutor Allison Jaros requested public records, including the autopsy report, be kept secret and be the subject of a strict protective order.

Jaros wrote in the motion that the the agreed-to order would prevent defense attorney Sylvia Baiz from showing the public autopsy report to anyone.

In New Mexico, autopsy reports are public records.

Judge Kirtan Khalsa granted the protective order, despite the fact that autopsy reports are public records.

Plea

Gutierrez pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for fatally shooting another man in an early-morning incident on March 29, 2020, on the reservation. He appeared via Zoom from a Cibola County detention center before Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information and set sentencing before a District Court judge at an undetermined time.

According to the plea deal, it is binding and Gutierrez will be sentences to 12 years. Final acceptance of the plea was deferred until sentencing by the district court judge, according to the form minutes.

Federal agents charged Gutierrez with murder in the death of Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 30, and Gutierrez has been in detention since.

Gutierrez was staying at his girlfriend’s house on March 29 in To’Hajilee when guests of his girlfriend’s father including Platero, identified as “John Doe” in charging documents, and Platero’s brother, identified as “MK” began to scuffle, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Jaros said.

“My girlfriend entered the room and told them to leave,” Jaros said, reading aloud the facts of the case from Gutierrez’s point of view. “Shortly thereafter I armed myself with a handgun and began walking down the hallway. John Doe exited the room. As we passed each other in the hallway, John Doe swung at me. I shot John Doe in the chest.”

Gutierrez’s plea deal waives any claim of self-defense, Jaros said.

When Briones asked Gutierrez if he felt he had enough time to talk about the case with his public defender, Sylvia A. Baiz, Gutierrez said, “Yeah, somewhat.”

Briones asked Gutierrez several additional questions about Baiz’s representation in which Gutierrez responded positively. With the plea deal, Gutierrez waives any appeal attempts except on the grounds of his representation.

Baiz said Gutierrez reached the plea deal ahead of a grand jury indictment deadline, which she said would have brought additional charges against Gutierrez.

Jaros said Platero’s family listened into the hearing, and would speak at sentencing.

Gutierrez’s next hearing was not scheduled at the conclusion of the plea hearing.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Andrew Martinez contributed to this report

See past stories on this case

Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

Joshua Gutierrez of To’Hajiilee charged with murder for allegedly shooting unidentified Native American man on March 29, 2020

Jacob Johnson, Liam Johnson: Donald Kalma — 4-21-2017

Suspect: Jacob Johnson, 20

Suspect: Liam Johnson, 18

Victim: Donald Kalma, 35

Charges: Second-degree murder

Status: Guilty pleas to second-degree murder, other charges; sentenced

Jacob Johnson sentence: 28 years

Liam Johnson sentence: 15 years (15-20 years under plea agreement)

Date of incident: April 21, 2017

Agency: Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office

Location: 900 block of North Camino Del Pueblo, Bernalillo

Relationship to victim: Nephews

Jacob Johnson Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00271

Liam Johnson Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-201700270

Jacob Johnson District case number: D-1329-CR-201700170

Liam Johnson District case number: D-1329-CR-201700171

 

Summary

Sandoval County Sheriff’s detectives alleged brothers Liam, 18, and Jacob Johnson, 20,  plotted to kill their uncle because he was getting between them in. They also planned his death in hopes that it would be a bonding experience.

On April 21, 2017, they allegedly lured him outside his room at the family’s two-house compound and hit him in the back of the head repeatedly with a three-pound sledge hammer.

They then allegedly loaded his body into the back of his own truck and dumped him into an arroyo in Rio Rancho, where his body was discovered, under a pile of his own trash, by a jogger.

Both men were indicted on May 4, 2017 on a series of charges including first-degree murder.

On March 8, 2019, Jacob Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and five other charges. The plea agreement provided for a total sentence of 42 years.

On March 26, 2018, Liam Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. According to his plea agreement, he faced a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison.

District Court Judge Cindy Mercer sentenced both men on May 10. She sentenced Liam Johnson to 15 years in prison, the minimum sentence he faced. She sentenced Jacob Johnson to 28 years in prison. It is not clear what changed between the plea agreement and the amended judgement and sentence, filed on Sept. 19, 2019.

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The incident

Brother Liam and Jacob Johnson had a problem. Their uncle from California, Donald Kalma, was coming between them, Jacob Johnson allegedly said during an interview with Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office detectives on April 21, 2017,  Detective Frank Tomlinson wrote in a statement of probable cause for the arrest of both brothers.

Liam Johnson

On the evening of April 20, 2017, the brothers allegedly discussed the disruption Kalma was causing to their relationship and what do about it.

“After a long discussion, it was decided that Jacob and the defendant would kill Mr. Kalma by possibly stabbing or beating him to death,” Tomlinson wrote. “In the early morning of April 21, 2017 the defendant (Liam Johnson) and Jacob arrived at the residence of Mr. Kalma and as Jacob waited outside the entry to Mr. Kalma ‘s apartment, the defendant entered the residence with the intent of stabbing Mr. Kalma.”

When Liam Johnson entered Kalma’s room, a loft in the garage of the family complex that consisted of two houses, he woke up and mistook him for another member of the family, although who exactly is not listed.

“The defendant (Liam Johnson) aborted the knife attack and lured Mr. Kalma outside the residence,” Tomlinson wrote. “The defendant left, followed by Mr. Kalma. As Mr. Kalma exited the door, Jacob described striking him in the back of the head with such force it ‘dropped him like a sack of potatos (sic).'”

Jacob Johnson allegedly said he used a three-pound sledge hammer to hit Kalma in the back of the head. As Kalma lay on the ground, gurgling, Jacob Johnson allegedly said he struck his uncle two to three more times in the head.

“The defendant (Liam Johnson) and Jacob moved the body of Mr. Kalma to the east side of the residence where Mr. Kalma began to ‘gurgle’ once more,” Tomlinson wrote. “At this time the defendant (Liam Johnson) retrieved the sledgehammer and struck him two or three additional times in the head.”

Jacob Johnson allegedly said he loaded up Kalma’s body into the back of Kalma’s 1972 Ford F100 truck, along with pallets and a garbage bag filled with soda cans that Kalma collected. Once they reached a ravine area, they allegedly tossed his body down, along with the pallets and bag of trash.

“The 3lb sledgehammer was ‘tossed’ away from the body as both parties drove away from the scene,” Tomlinson wrote. “Jacob described the events as ‘justified’ due to Mr. Kalma’s constant disruptions and his ‘coming between brothers.’ Jacob and the defendant (Liam Johnson) stated he believed killing Mr. Karma was going to be a ‘bonding’ activity.”

Jacob Johnson

On the afternoon of April 21, 2017, after the Johnson brothers allegedly dumped their uncle’s body in the ravine, a jogger found it and called 911 at 12:29 p.m. in Rio Rancho.

Officers found Kalma’s body had a wood pallet covering it, a few “squirt” soda cans and sheet metal screws, a gold Allen wrench and a nail.

“It appeared that these items possibly could have fallen out of a vehicle used to transport the body to the location,” Tomlinson wrote. “A few feet further down the road at an intersection was located a small handheld sledge hammer that appeared to have suspected blood on it.”

The pathologist found a large wound to the back of his head and other contusions on his head.

Detectives then headed to the family property Kalma had been living at in Bernalillo, in the 900 block of North Camino Del Pueblo.

“Investigating officers obtained consent to look around the property,” Tomlinson wrote. “The property contained two family dwellings and a detached garage with a loft where Mr. Kalma lived.”

On the property they found Kalma’s blue truck and saw the bed had recently been washed out, but there still appeared to be blood in the puddles of water in the back.

“A sheet metal screw matching the ones found at the crime scene was observed in the back of the truck,” Tomlinson wrote. “Wood or bark were also seen in and around the truck and one yellow ‘Squirt’ soft drink can was inside the bed of the truck as well.”

In addition, officers found a wooden fence that allegedly matched the wooden fencing found near Kalma’s body, as well as plastic trash bags with red draw strings which matched the ones found with his body, he wrot.

“Investigating officers also located suspected blood on a property building,” Tomlinson wrote.

Tomlinson had Jacob Johnson come to the Sheriff’s Office with him, read him his Miranda rights and the Jacob Johnson allegedly told Tomlinson about the killing, he wrote.

Below is the statement of probable cause for Jacob Johnson’s arrest.

 

Statement of probable cause for Jacob Johnson's arrest dated 4-24-2017

 

Indictment, plea and sentence

A grand jury indicted Liam Johnson and Jacob Johnson on May 4, 2017.

Both men were indicted on charges of:

  • First-degree murder
  • Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder
  • Aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon
  • Thee counts of tampering with evidence

Pleas

Liam Johnson

Liam Johnson was the first brother to sign a plea agreement, on March 7, 2018, although the document was not filed with the clerks office until March 29, 2018. District Court Judge Cindy Mercer signed the agreement on March 26, 2018.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

According to the plea, he faced a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison followed by 5 years of supervised probation. The plea agreement was conditioned on his cooperation in the prosecution of his brother.

Jacob Johnson

A year later, Jacob Johnson signed a plea agreement, on March 4, 2019, along with prosecutor Jessica Martinez and his defense attorney, Marie Legrand Miller. The judge’s signature District Court Judge Cindy Mercer’s does not have a date. The plea agreement is time stamped by the clerks office on March 8, 2019 at 1:51 p.m.

A criminal information for Jacob Johnson was filed on March 4, 2019, charging him with three counts of tampering with evidence. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and six counts of tampering with evidence. The aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon charge was dropped.

According to the terms of the plea, Jacob Johnson was to serve a 42-year sentence, with the various six counts of tampering with evidence running consecutive to one another.

Sentencing

Jacob and Liam Johnson were both sentenced on May 10, 2019, by District Court Judge Cindy Mercer.

According to an amended judgement, sentence and commitment, Mercer sentenced Jacob Johnson to 28 years in prison. It is not clear what changed between the plea agreement and the amended judgement and sentence, filed on Sept. 19, 2019.

She sentenced Liam Johnson to 15 years in prison, the minimum allowed under his plea deal.

See the documents on Google Drive.

Darrius Valles: Jerry Wayne Jennings — 01-15-2016

Suspect: Darrius Valles

Victim: Jerry Wayne Jennings

Charges: First-degree murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon: a firearm, two counts of tampering with evidence and escape from the custody of a release program

Status: Guilty plea to second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and escape from a community custody program

Sentence: 7 years followed by 5 years supervised probation

Date of incident: Jan. 15, 2016

Agency: Albuquerque Police Department

Location: 1309 Dickerson Dr SE, Albuquerque

Magistrate case number: T-4-FR-2016-001084

District case number: D-202-CR-2016-00789

 

Summary

On Jan. 15, 2016, Darrius Valles, allegedly shot Jerry Wayne Jennings in the head with a pistol while they were fighting. They got into the fight because Valles caused someone to break Jenning’s windows.

Valles allegedly claimed to his girlfriend, after the fight, that he shot Jennings in self defense.

A female witness who lived across the way alleged that she saw Jennings shot in the head while he was talking on a cell phone, and not while he was fighting with Valles.

He was arrested on the charges on Feb. 29, 2016.

As the case proceeded, DeAmber Yonker failed to appear for a pre-trial interview and her lawyer, representing Valles in another case, requested that she not be ordered to testify because she could incriminate herself. That attorney, Lisa Torraco, was later removed as her attorney.

Yonker failed to appear for a series of hearings and on May 5, 2017, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal with Valles’ attorney, Tom Clark, after Yonker could not be located. She was arrested on a warrant two days later.

According to the plea deal, accepted on June 14, 2017, Valles received a sentence of seven years followed by supervised probation for five years.

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The incident

Around 3:42 p.m., Jan. 15, 2016, Darrius Valles, 21 at the time, and Jerry Wayne Jennings, 43, got into a fight over Jenning’s broken apartment windows.

Valles had taken refuge a few days prior in Jenning’s apartment because someone was trying to get to him. The person who was after him threw rocks through Jenning’s windows, breaking all of them, Albuquerque Police Detective C. J. Brown wrote in a statement of probable cause for Valles arrest shortly after the shooting.

Darrius Valles

During the fight, Valles allegedly shot Jennings in the head with a pistol, according to what he told his girlfriend, DeAmber Yonker, of Albuquerque, Brown wrote.

He wrote he was called out to Valles’ apartment in the 1300 block of Dickerson Drive SE about two hours after the shooting was reported.

Yonker told Brown, in an interview in the Department’s mobile crime scene van, that nine days prior, her boyfriend, Valles, and his friend, Lamar Watts, got into an argument.

“During this argument, Darrius ran over to Jerry’s apartment #A for refuge,” Brown wrote. “Lamar threw several rocks into several of Jerry’s apartment windows. DeAmber stated since then, none of Jerry’s windows were fixed until today when her mother had a repairman fix only one of the damaged windows.”

Because Yonker’s mother only had the one window fixed, Jennings went over to the apartment Yonkers and Valles shared the day of the shooting. He wanted to speak to Valles about getting the other windows fixed.

Valles walked outside of the apartment and allegedly heard Jennings tell Valles that he was going to fix the windows, then heard fighting outside the closed door, and someone bump up against it.

“She stated her door opened and saw Darrius trip as he was walking back into their apartment,” Brown wrote. “She stated although Darrius was much larger than Jerry that Jerry got on top of him and started punching him.”

Yonker told them she was going to call 911, and did so, but was told to go into one of the back rooms while the two men fought.

Brown wrote that, according to driver’s license information, both men were six feet tall but Jennings only weighed 175 pounds while Valles weighed 280 pounds.

“She stated Darrius and Jerry ended up outside again and while she was on the phone, she heard a ‘pop’ sound,” Brown wrote. “She then dropped her phone and walked into the hallway of their apartment to see what was going on.”

Valles walked in and met her in the apartment’s hallway.

“She stated he told her he had to shoot Jerry ‘out of self-defense,'” Brown wrote. “She stated he told her Jerry was punching him and he had to shoot him. She stated he then handed her a small pistol (unknown type or caliber) telling her to take it because she was 21 and she wouldn’t get in trouble.”

Yonker told him no and handed the pistol back. Valles then allegedly opened the closet door in the hallway, put on a jacket and left the apartment.

The other view

Another detective told Brown he talked to a juvenile who lived in an adjacent apartment complex.

“She stated while in her bedroom, she heard what sounded like a gunshot,” Brown wrote. “She looked through the back window and observed a male talking on a cellphone fall back onto the floor just after hearing the ‘pop’ sound. The female then walked down to 1309 Dickerson Dr SE and noticed the male she saw fall to the ground shaking on the ground.”

She told the detective the man was bleeding from the head.

Nowhere to be found

Detectives learned that Valles was on probation for another case and had an ankle bracelet that should have been able to track his movements.

During a briefing, Brown learned that Valles allegedly cut the bracelet off after the shooting.

“The bracelet was located at Arno St SE and Bell Ave SE at approximately 4:02 pm by Probation and Parole,” Brown wrote.

The arrest warrant was then issued the following day, Jan. 16, 2016.

He was arrested on the warrant on Feb. 29, 2016.

PC - Darrius Valles - 1-16-2016

 

Grand jury indictment

On March 15, 2016, a grand jury indicted Valles on charges of:

  • First-degree murder
  • Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon: a firearm
  • Two counts of tampering with evidence
  • Escape from the custody of a release program

 

Witness problems

Deamber Yonker’s former attorney Lisa Torraco saw two problems with Yonker’s testimony: She was being prosecuted for allegedly lying to investigators about her boyfriend, Valles’, whereabouts and her testimony, either in court or in a pre-trial interview, could incriminate herself in Jennings’ death. That case has since been dismissed.

The prosecution tried to conduct a pre-trial witness interview with Yonker on May 17, 2016 and served her with a subpeona.

Albuquerque by Pom’/Flickr. CC BY-SA

She didn’t show.

Her lawyer at the time, Lisa Torraco, filed a motion for a protective order on May 16, 2016 that would protect Yonker from testifying under the theory that she could incriminate herself. The judge sealed that motion.

According to the judge’s order granting the state’s motion to appoint new counsel for Yonker, Yonker had “information not known to the state and to the police that will tend to incriminate [her] and is EXCULPATORY to [Defendant].”

On May 17, 2016, Second Judicial District prosecutor Les Romaine filed a motion for a “material witness warrant,” which was eventually quashed by the judge.

In his motion, Romaine asked the judge to issue a warrant for Yonker so she could be held until they could conduct a pre-trial interview.

Torraco had previously represented Yonker and Valles in another case and in this case, prosecutors argued, she had a conflict of interest because what would be good for Valles might not be good for Yonker.

In a motion, Romaine asked that Torraco be removed as Yonker’s attorney and in it, he summarized a series of past cases involving Valles and Yonker. See the motion here.

In addition, he wrote that Torraco indicated that Yonker might expose herself to federal prosecution if she were to testify.

“Torraco is now representing a witness this case whose interests are adverse to Defendant,” District Judge Brett Loveless wrote in the order for new counsel. “Torraco has represented that Yonker may have evidence that is exculpatory for Defendant. However. Torraco sought an order excluding Yonker from testifying in order to protect Yonker from incriminating herself. Thus, the interests of Yonker and Defendant are materially adverse.”

Loveless wrote that it was unusual that prosecutors wanted a witness’s lawyer to be removed from the case.

“However, under the unique circumstances of this case, the Court has no trouble concluding that Torraco’s simultaneous representation of Yonker in this case and Defendant in other criminal matters is fraught with a conflict of interest, as well as a serious potential conflict of interest,” Loveless wrote.

Immunity request

On March 22, 2017, Romaine filed a motion asking that Loveless issue an order forcing Yonker to testify and granting her immunity from prosecution.

“The State is prepared to grant use immunity to DeAmber Yonker for her testimony in regards to the events of January 16, 2016, so long as DeAmber Yonker does not state she was the shooter,” Romaine wrote.

On March 15, 2017, Valles attorney, Tom Clark, filed a motion to exclude the testimony of Yonker and fellow witness Julia Quaglia-Jaramillo because they had not been made available for interviews and the deadline to interview witnesses was Feb. 3, 2017.

“While suppression is a harsh remedy, it is appropriate in this case,” Clark wrote.

Romaine wrote in a response dated March 17 that interviewing Yonker would be in violation of the judge’s order and that Clark could have attempted to subpoena them himself.

In addition, Quaglia-Jaramillo was not properly served with a subpoena, but was available.

On May 31, 2017, Clark filed a motion to dismiss the homicide charge against Valles and another motion to exclude Yonker’s testimony.

Romaine filed a short response to the motion to dismiss the homicide charge and a 13-page response to the motion to exclude Yonker’s testimony, both on June 12, 2017. In that response, he alleged Valles made thousands of calls to Yonker in an attempt to get her to not testify.

 

Plea deal

Portrait of District Judge Brett Loveless
District Judge Brett Loveless

According to a story in the Albuquerque Journal, prosecutors agreed to a plea with Valles on May 5, 2017, after they were unable to locate Yonker. That plea deal set his sentence at seven years in prison.

Yonker was booked on a material witness warrant two days later on May 7, 2017, according to the Journal.

Valles did not sign the plea agreement until June 13, 2017 and Romaine did not sign it until June 14, the day it was accepted by District Court Judge Brett Loveless during a plea hearing.

According to the plea agreement, Valles pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and escape from a community custody program. In addition to seven years in prison, he also received five years of probation following his release.

It is not clear why Clark filed the two motions on May 31, 2017, to dismiss the homicide charge and exclude Yonker’s testimony, or why Romaine filed a response, when they already agreed to a plea on May 5, 2017.

Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Patrick told the Journal that prosecutors, presumably Romaine, would have pushed for a sentence of at least nine years but the deal had already been made in good faith.

 

View the case documents on Google Drive