FARMINGTON — The wife of the man fatally shot at the Animas Valley Mall last month said she was clutching her husband's arm and waiting to die when her husband was killed in front of his family.

Prosecutors said Luis Ramirez, 28, was the "getaway" driver for his younger brother, 22-year-old Alejandro Ramirez, who allegedly shot and killed Johnny "Ben-G" Vialpando on April 27. Both brothers are facing the same charges.

"Mr. Luis Ramirez is being charged as an accessory to these crimes," said San Juan County Deputy District Attorney Casey Stone. "That means he doesn't have to pick up the gun himself. As an accessory, he is equally liable for those crimes.
Luis Ramirez
Luis Ramirez (Courtesy of San Juan County Sheriff's Office)
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Luis Ramirez appeared in magistrate court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday morning, which ended with Magistrate Judge Stanley King ruling that all eight of his felony charges, including an open count of murder, will be heard in district court.

"I do believe he is just as responsible for the acts," King said.

At King's request, San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputies provided security during the hearing. Three deputies formed a triangle shield around Luis Ramirez throughout his court appearance.

About a dozen gang unit members and detectives also attended.

Police have said that Luis and Alejandro Ramirez are gang members who live in Kirtland. Alejandro Ramirez, the alleged shooter, is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing in two weeks.

Rhiannon Vialpando, Johnny Vialpando's wife, testified for more than 45 minutes on Wednesday. She answered detailed questions about the shooting from attorneys on both sides and sketched a picture of the mall parking lot and the cars involved in the shooting.

According to her testimony, Johnny Vialpando was sitting in the front passenger seat of the family's black Dodge Durango.
Alejandro Ramirez
Alejandro Ramirez (Courtesy of San Juan County Sheriff's Office)
The couple's three oldest children were sitting behind him. The family had just finished a 20-minute stop to the mall to buy Johnny Vialpando a hat.

Rhiannon Vialpando said she was getting ready to back out of her parking space when a short man with long wavy hair popped up in her husband's window and started a conversation.

Police said the man was Alejandro Ramirez, a 5-foot-2-inch man known as "Little Alex."

"He said "Are you still gang-banging?' and (Johnny Vialpando) said, "No, that's nonsense. I put that away a long time ago. I just take care of my family and work,'" Rhiannon Vialpando said.

Cosme Ripol, Luis Ramirez's attorney, asked Rhiannon Vialpando if her husband was a former gang member, but King did not allow the question. Farmington police have said Johnny Vialpando had connections to gangs as a teenager but hadn't had any encounters with the law in recent years.

Alejandro Ramirez then asked Johnny Vialpando questions about what church he attended and asked for his cellphone number and a ride, Rhiannon Vialpando said.

As Rhiannon Vialpando put her vehicle in reverse, a white Chevrolet Blazer screeched to a stop behind her, blocking her in the parking space. She said she could see through her rearview mirror that Luis Ramirez was the driver.

She said in court that Alejandro Ramirez walked over to the Blazer and grabbed something she couldn't see what it was from his brother and walked back to her husband.
Johnny and Rhiannon Vialpando with their children, from left, Elihue, Mikal, Nikki, Carmin, Tessa, botton, and their dog Bullet.
Johnny and Rhiannon Vialpando with their children, from left, Elihue, Mikal, Nikki, Carmin, Tessa, botton, and their dog Bullet. (Courtesy of Angela Brumley)
Alejandro Ramirez then said, "This is for Gary," and started shooting from point-blank range.

"I just held on to my husband and closed my eyes and waited for us all to die," Rhiannon Vialpando said.

Johnny Vialpando had 15 gunshot wounds, including entry and exit wounds, and five bullets were found inside his body, according to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.

After the shooting, "his head was laying back, and his eyes were open, and he was bleeding, and my 16-year-old daughter was holding his gun wounds," said Rhiannon Vialpando. She said that she "just held his hand" until the family arrived at the San Juan Health Partners Urgent Care facility across the street.

After the shooting, police said Luis Ramirez drove east toward Aztec at a high rate of speed. Minutes later, he and his brother were stopped and arrested by sheriff's office deputies near county roads 3000 and 350.

A semi-automatic handgun was found about a half-mile from there they were arrested, police said. Farmington police Detective Heather Chavez said the gun had been fired recently and looked as if it had skidded across a road. She said the gun could shoot ammunition that matched shell casings found at the scene of the shooting at the mall.

Ripol, Luis Ramirez's attorney, pointed out that the gun was a dark metallic color, and Rhiannon Vialpando said her husband was shot by a silver gun.

Ripol tried to persuade King to only send the murder charge to district court. He said the state didn't have enough evidence to pursue conspiracy to commit murder, tampering with evidence, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at or from a motor vehicle and three counts of child abuse against Luis Ramirez.

Ripol said there was no conspiracy. Alejandro Ramirez spontaneously assassinated Johnny Vialpando when he saw him at the mall, he said.

"It was an intentional and deliberate assassination. ... We know what was in Alejandro's mind. That several years ago Vialpando may or may not have been involved I don't know whether he was involved in the harming or the killing of a Gary. At least in Alex's mind, this was a payback for Gary," Ripol said. "He wasn't trying to kill the children. It was an intentional killing of Johnny Vialpando, which he did by putting the weapon within inches of his head and shooting him."

Ryan Boetel can be reached at rboetel@daily-times.com; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.