Chance at parole for both men effectively eliminated
AZTEC — Alejandro Ramirez and his brother Luis Ramirez each were given an effective life sentence without the possibility of parole Friday in the murder of Johnny "Benji" Vialpando Jr. in 2013.
Alejandro Ramirez, 24, was convicted of first-degree murder on accusations he shot Benji Vialpando to death outside the Animas Valley Mall on East Main Street on April 27, 2013.
Benji Vialpando was sitting with his wife, Rhiannon Vialpando, and three stepchildren in the family vehicle when he was shot nine times in the upper torso and head. He was rushed to the Urgent Care Center across the street from the mall by his wife, but died within minutes.
Luis Ramirez, 30, was convicted of first-degree murder as an accessory on accusations he drove the getaway vehicle for his brother.
The brothers were arrested not far from the scene of the shooting, and the gun was found on the roadway, allegedly ditched from the brothers' vehicle shortly before their capture.
Both brothers were convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, shooting at a motor vehicle, three counts of child abuse and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Alejandro Ramirez also was convicted of evidence tampering.
Benji Vialpando's father, Jonnie Vialpando, told the judge Rhiannon Vialpando had to wash his son's blood off of her children.
"Not only did they take Benji's life, they did it in front of his family," Jonnie Vialpando said.
Rhiannon Vialpando told the judge during Luis Ramirez's sentencing that she contemplated suicide after her husband's death and spent months in intensive therapy.
"Benji worked hard to provide a life for us," she said. "We were not an ordinary couple. We were extraordinary."
Because of the murder conviction, both brothers were guaranteed a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years. However, Judge John Dean ordered that both brothers will serve an additional 69 years and six months in prison in addition to the life sentence, which will effectively eliminate any opportunity for parole before their death.
Both men's convictions will be appealed automatically due to the seriousness of the offense.
Luis Ramirez did not speak at the sentencing, but his brother did. Alejandro Ramirez said he had been reading the Bible during his incarceration. He urged others not to become "a victim of hate."
"Hate can be a dangerous thing for the person who holds it in their heart," he said, adding later, "I say this to anyone who is listening. It's a message I take with me wherever I go."