After deliberating four-and-a-half hours, the jury that heard the case of New Mexico vs Harvey Salinas found the defendant guilty on charges of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Arnulfo Villela Jr., and guilty on the charges of unlawful carrying of a firearm by a person under the age of 19. The charges stem from an incident that occurred on July 6 when an argument turned lethal.
The verdict followed the State’s final witness, Chaves County Detention Center Officer Bruce Leatherman, who reported to the court that Salinas had told the officer that another prisoner, Christopher Miranda, was “the snitch we were supposed to kill. He bangs Eastside, too.”
The State rested, and the defense did also as Salinas chose not to take the stand on his own behalf. Salinas’ attorney Luke Ragsdale asked the court for a directed verdict on the original charges of second-degree murder since autopsy evidence indicated that the bullets that caused Villela’s death did not come from the 9 mm firearm the defendant was purportedly carrying. Ragsdale argued, too, for a directed verdict on the lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter. On the counts of aggravated battery and aggravated assault, he stated, “Michael Montantez testified in his own words Mr. Salinas did not shoot at him.”
Deputy District Attorney Michael Murphy countered that Salinas was, under the law, an accessory to homicide if he “counsels, aides or abets” in the act; therefore could be charged with homicide. Murphy used the analogy that if a man and his accomplice go to rob a bank, both would be considered culpable even if one of the men sat in the get-away car and did not enter the bank.
Judge Freddie Romero ruled that the concept of accessory as an accomplice was an issue for the jury to determine.
In his closing statement, Murphy followed point-by-point arguments presented by the defense. He refuted the accusation that Villela attempted to stab Joseph Lucero and, therefore, instigated a counterattack. “It is not credible,” Murphy said, “for Villela to fold up his knife and put it in his pocket as he is being shot in the back.”
During his statement, Ragsdale repeated that the four bullets which could considered the killing shots came from a .22 caliber pistol carried by Lucero and not a 9 mm. He said, “We have no proof that he (Salinas) was armed … no fingerprints on the bullets. … They want you to infer. They want you to assume. They are asking you to make those steps, make those leaps. …”
He pointed out that the prosecutor had not provided evidence that Montantez’s wounds were caused by a bullet during the shooting.
In her rebuttal, Assistant District Attorney Emily Maher reminded the jury of Leatherman’s statement about the “snitch we meant to kill.” “He got into that car with that intent,” she said.
In the end, Salinas received a guilty verdict on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and the jury confirmed its belief that Salinas was armed. He was acquitted on the final two charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault.