Trial begins Monday for defendant in Animas Valley Mall shooting

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A trial is expected to begin Monday for Alejandro Ramirez, one of two brothers charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Johnny Vialpando Jr. in 2013 outside the Animas Valley Mall.

Ramirez, 24, has been held for almost two years on a $1 million cash-only bond in connection to the April 27, 2013, shooting of Vialpando, 25.

He is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, shooting at a motor vehicle, causing great bodily harm, three counts of child abuse, tampering with evidence, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a felon, according to court records.

His attorney, Thomas Clark, said Friday that his client is ready for the case to be over.

"It has been a nerve-wracking experience," Clark said. "It is a tough thing to be charged with first-degree murder and have most of the community think you did it."

According to the arrest warrant, Farmington police officers were dispatched at approximately 5 p.m. April 27, 2013, to the Animas Valley Mall, 4601 E. Main St., in response to a shooting.

The victim, Vialpando, was rushed to the San Juan Health Partners Urgent Care Center, located across the street from the mall, where he died as a result of his wounds. Police later learned Vialpando was shot in his vehicle a total of 15 times, and bullet wounds were found in his chest, face and right shoulder.

Several witnesses, including Vialpando's wife, Rhiannon Vialpando, described the shooter as a Hispanic man with long black hair, the warrant states.

Rhiannon Vialpando said she was in the vehicle with her husband and three children when another vehicle occupied by two men pulled up behind them and blocked them in. She told detectives one man exited the vehicle and shook her husband's hand. She assumed they were friends, Rhiannon Vialpando told police, but the man was acting suspiciously.

She said the man, who her husband called "Little Alex," ran back to his vehicle after a short while and came back shooting a handgun, according to the warrant.

He yelled at her husband, "This is for Gary," she told detectives.

Johnny Vialpando's father later told police his son was a suspect several years prior in the shooting of a man named "Gary."

Police have said he may be referring to Gary Martinez, a 17-year-old who was killed in a gang-related shooting in 2007 in south Farmington.

Police told The Daily Times in May 2013 that Johnny Vialpando had ties to local gangs at the time of the Martinez shooting and was targeted in two drive-by shootings after Martinez's death but was never charged in connection to the shooting.

A vehicle matching the description of the shooter's vehicle was stopped by San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputies shortly after the Vialpando shooting and the occupants, the Ramirez brothers, were taken into custody.

Alejandro Ramirez matched a description of the shooter, according to the warrant, and a handgun was found discarded near where the brothers' vehicle was stopped by deputies.

Neither brother provided a statement to police, the warrant states.

Farmington police increased patrols in several gang-affiliated neighborhoods in Farmington the weeks after the shooting, fearing the death of Vialpando would result in retaliatory violence.

Farmington police Lt. Daryl Noon said officers will be on high alert throughout the week as a result of the trial.

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said Friday that jury selection would begin on Monday morning, but the trial may be delayed and moved to a different county if enough unbiased jurors cannot be located.

Alejandro Ramirez's older brother, Luis Ramirez, 29, is also charged with murder, among other offenses, in connection to the shooting of Vialpando and is expected to appear at trial in July.

O'Brien said this week's trial could provide insight into how the older brother's trial will unfold.

"It's the same witnesses and the same facts," O'Brien said. "So it certainly will give the state an idea of how the evidence is going to come out and its useful to hear that before you move on to the next case."

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.