Trial continues for man accused in Animas Valley Mall shooting

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Jurors in Alejandro Ramirez's murder trial heard expert testimony Wednesday on crime scene evidence from the fatal shooting of Johnny Vialpando Jr. outside the Animas Valley Mall in April 2013.

Prosecutor Marcus Blais presented photos showing the gruesome aftermath of the shooting during the testimony of Farmington police crime scene investigator Mercedes Bruneau.

Vialpando was shot to death at approximately 5 p.m. on April 27 outside the mall at 4601 E. Main St. while sitting in a green Dodge Durango SUV with his wife and three stepchildren.

Photos of the vehicle showed bloodstains covering the front passenger seat where Vialpando sat when he was shot nine times. Photos also showed that blood spattered the front passenger side windshield and the rearview mirror.

Bruneau testified that six shell casings were located in the mall parking lot and a seventh shell casing was found on the floorboard of Vialpando's vehicle. A latent handprint was also lifted off the passenger door, Bruneau said.

Bonnie Knoll, a latent print analyst with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety's Forensic Laboratories Bureau, said Ramirez's print matched the one pulled from the door.

Ramirez and his brother, Luis Ramirez, were stopped in a vehicle near the intersection of county roads 3000 and 3635 shortly after the shooting occurred. Ramirez, a short Hispanic man with long hair, matched a description of the shooter provided by Vialpando's family and other witnesses at the scene.

A semiautomatic handgun was also located near the intersection of county roads 3000 and 350. The damage to the weapon — a broken sight and magazine butt — suggested to police it could have been thrown out of a car window.

However, Knoll testified Wednesday that two latent prints on the firearm did not match prints for either of the Ramirez brothers or Vialpando. Print impressions on the magazine were not clear enough to be tested, Knoll said.

DNA analyst Jennifer Otto of the DPS Forensic Laboratories Bureau further testified that the limited amount of DNA found on the handgun could not be traced to any specific individual. Neither of the Ramirez brothers had blood on their clothing, Otto said.

Kevin Streine, a firearms expert with the DPS Forensic Laboratories Bureau, testified that he was able to determine through forensic testing that the bullets found at the crime scene were fired from the gun located at the intersection.

He further said that testing suggested that the gun was fired at least 18 inches away from Vialpando.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark asked Streine whether the Czechoslovakian-made 7.62-mm pistol was commonly seen in criminal investigations.

"It's certainly not rare," Streine said.

In answer to follow up questions from the prosecution he said it was possible that the external hammer on the pistol could pinch the shooter's skin, causing a visible wound, if his hand was not properly positioned while holding the firearm.

Ramirez had a small cut in the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, according to a police report.

The jury trial is expected to continue today.

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.