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Widow of Animas Valley Mall murder victim testifies on first day of trial

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Rhiannon Vialpando told a jury at Alejandro Ramirez's murder trial Tuesday that she met Johnny Vialpando Jr. through mutual friends and they dated about a year before marrying.

Johnny Vialpando was a wonderful father to her three children, the widow said on the first day of the trial, and was shot to death on a sunny day — April 27, 2013.

Rhiannon Vialpando, 36, was the first witness called to testify at the trial for Ramirez, 24, who is charged with first-degree murder, among other offenses, in the slaying of Johnny Vialpando in a parking lot outside the Animas Valley Mall, 4601 E. Main St.

Rhiannon Vialpando and her stepchildren were sitting in their vehicle with her husband — a 25-year-old truck driver — when he was shot nearly 10 times at point-blank range by a man matching Ramirez's description.

"It was the most painful and terrifying moment of my life," Rhiannon Vialpando told the jury.

In court, lead prosecutor Marcus Blais played a recording of a Farmington police officer's interview with the woman shortly after the shooting.

In the recording, Rhiannon Vialpando can hardly speak and the wailing of her then 10-year-old son, Mikal Monclova, mostly overwhelms her voice.

She asks herself at one point in the recording: "Why didn't I just leave? Why didn't I just leave?"

Rhiannon Vialpando's son and her two daughters, Carmen Monclova and Nikki Monclova, also testified Tuesday. Jury selection lasted all day Monday.

Carmen Monclova was 16 years old when her stepfather was killed and her description of what occurred outside the mall largely matched accounts provided by her mother and siblings.

She told the jury that the family was about to leave the mall at approximately 5 p.m. when a short Hispanic male with shoulder-length curly hair approached their vehicle and started talking to her stepfather through the passenger side window.

She said they talked as if they knew each other, but the man was acting suspiciously.

She said he asked for a ride, but then said he did not need one as his brother pulled up in a SUV and parked behind their own.

He went to the vehicle and the man inside handed him an item, Carmen Monclova said.

The man then walked quickly over to their vehicle, yelled "This is for Gary," and shot Johnny Vialpando multiple times.

"It was so close I could smell the smoke coming from the gun," Carmen Monclova said.

When asked to identify who shot her stepfather that day, Carmen Monclova pointed at Ramirez and said it was him. Her siblings and mother, when asked to identify the shooter, also pointed to Ramirez.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark noted in his cross-examination of Carmen Monclova that she had never before been asked by police to identify the shooter through a photo array or police lineup. All the other family members also testified that they were not asked to identify the shooter in that manner.

Clark suggested in his questioning that they may believe Ramirez is the shooter simply because he is the one who stands accused of the crime.

Carmen Monclova denied it.

"I would never forget his face," she said.

Clark urged the jurors in his opening statement not to allow their judgment to be clouded by sympathy for the victims. Instead, he asked them to focus on the problems with the state's case.

"There are a great deal of inconsistencies," Clark said. "The counsel wants so bad to hang this on Alex. It wasn't Alex."

The trial for Ramirez is expected to conclude on Friday.

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