Family of Animas Valley Mall shooting victim finds justice in jury's verdict
FARMINGTON — With tears in his eyes, Luis Ramirez kissed his mother on Wednesday before he was led out the Aztec district courthouse after being convicted of first-degree murder.
After five hours of deliberation, a jury determined Luis Ramirez aided and abetted his brother, Alejandro Ramirez, in the shooting of Johnny "Benji" Vialpando Jr. outside the Animas Valley Mall in April 2013.
Luis Ramirez was found guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, shooting at a motor vehicle causing great bodily harm and three counts of child abuse following a two-day trial.
Alejandro Ramirez was found guilty of the same offenses after a week-long trial in April.
Benji Vialpando's father, Jonnie Vialpando, hugged family outside the courtroom following the decision.
"We got a fair verdict, but nobody wins," he said.
He thanked members of the community who have prayed for him and his family.
Benji Vialpando's wife, Rhiannon Vialpando, watched with her three children on April 27, 2013, as Benji Vialpando was gunned down outside the Animas Valley Mall.
"It was justice," she said about the verdict. "Good justice."
Nikki Negret, mother of Luis and Alejandro Ramirez, said she loves her sons.
"I will always, always, until my last breath, I will be there for them," she said.
She said she could not say whether the jury was right in its decision.
"Only God knows the truth," she said, adding later. "God has a reason for this. I believe in that."
Luis Ramirez's attorney, Arlon Stoker, said he respected the jury's verdict but plans to appeal the decision.
Stoker said the appeal would likely be based on the jury's instructions, which he felt were phrased in a way that hurt his client.
San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said Wednesday that the Ramirez brothers are guaranteed life sentences due to their convictions for first-degree murder.
A life sentence allows the possibility for parole after 30 years in prison, but the judge can add additional years to the sentence to delay that possibility, according to O'Brien.
"We believe that the jury made the right decision, and we are happy we can close this chapter, for the family's sake," O'Brien said.
He said the prosecutors in the case — assistant district attorneys Marcus Blais and David Cowen — would need to discuss with the Vialpando family what sentences would be appropriate for Luis and Alejandro Ramirez.
Alejandro Ramirez is set to be sentenced Aug. 14. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled for Luis Ramirez.