‘Contributing to the delinquency of a minor’ debated in Villela homicide

January 9, 2014 • Local News

Ano[auth] ther chapter in the case of the Arnulfo Villela Jr. homicide unfolded in Chaves County District Court, Thursday. The 18-year-old Villela was shot to death in the 800 block of East Hendricks Street on July 6, 2012.

According to the criminal complaint, Villela and friend Michael Montantez were confronted by Harvey Salinas, Joseph Lucero and Israel Vigil, who were looking for “Josh and Chris.” Punches were exchanged, and the young men drew their firearms and shot Villela. The three were accompanied by Isaac Salazar, 20, and his girlfriend who was driving the car.

Joseph Lucero was 17 years old at the time of the shooting. He pleaded no contest to charges of voluntary manslaughter. Harvey Salinas, who was 15, was tried and convicted of voluntary manslaughter.

The court records state that Isaac Salazar did not participate with the confrontation, but fired his weapon as the group made their escape. After the incident, he reportedly helped to hide weapons.

Salazar was originally charged with shooting at or from a motor vehicle, tampering with evidence and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Salazar pleaded no contest to both the shooting and tampering charges, but held firm on the charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The trial on Thursday debated the definition of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In his opening statement, Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Murphy pointed out that both Salinas and Lucero were minors at the time of the homicide. He referred to a 1994 court decision that stated, to qualify as contributing to the delinquency, the defendants’ acts need not have caused the delinquency.

The Court of Appeals rejected the concept that the defendant had to have encouraged the act.

Defense attorney Michael Gomez argued, using official jury instructions that said the “mere presence” did not indicate contributing to delinquency. “Nothing my client did or said caused these acts.”

The prosecution reviewed the case, calling family members of the victim and police investigators. Murphy noted that lies told to the police by Salazar and others delayed the investigation. He also presented testimony that Salazar was aware that the others were armed and were looking for Chris and Josh because Chris reputedly beat up one of the three youth’s cousins.

Gomez asked for a directed verdict. He contended that Salazar did nothing to encourage the three to shoot Villela, and when Salazar shot from the car, it was after the homicide occurred. “At no time did Mr. Salazar direct the youths to do what they did.”

Murphy responded that the state felt that time was not an issue. Salazar knew they were armed. He contributed to the delays in the investigation by his false statements. “… Isaac Salazar’s shooting back aided their escape.”

Judge Steven L. Bell denied Gomez’s request for a directed verdict and told both attorneys to turn in their legal arguments on Jan. 31, so he could make a final ruling.

Gomez told the Daily Record: “It is a unique legal issue. To contribute to the delinquency, Isaac Salazar should have said something, done something before the event.”

Murphy said, when it comes to personal responsibility and accountability: “We have to draw the line somewhere.”

Israel Vigil has yet to stand trial. He is charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His trial is scheduled to start on July 21.

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