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‘I’m afraid he’ll get off scot-free’

Priscilla Garcia, pictured, remembers her daughter Stephanie Anderson as a “gentle spirit.” Anderson was shot and killed during the robbery of a Denny’s restaurant in 2009. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
Priscilla Garcia, pictured, remembers her daughter Stephanie Anderson as a “gentle spirit.” Anderson was shot and killed during the robbery of a Denny’s restaurant in 2009. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
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Around the 20th of each month, Priscilla Garcia finds herself feeling down and emotional.

Four years ago on June 20, 2009, her daughter, Stephanie Anderson, was shot and killed during a robbery of the Denny’s restaurant on Coors NW where she worked as a cook.

Within a week Albuquerque Police had arrested two of the three robbers, who also were suspects in other restaurant holdups.

“It seems like every month around the 20th, it gets to me,” she said.

And as long as Francisco Melgar-Cabrera is on the loose, Garcia won’t be able to close the door on her daughter’s murder.

ANDERSON: Killed in the 2009 robbery of a Denny’s

ANDERSON: Killed in the 2009 robbery of a Denny’s

“It’s difficult knowing that at some point, maybe ten years from now, if they catch him we will have to relive this whole nightmare,” Garcia said.

She wants the government of El Salvador to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and allow Melgar-Cabrera to be brought to justice in New Mexico.

“So far the El Salvadoran government will not cooperate,” she said. “He walks free and soon he’ll be joined by his brother.”

The brother, Jose Melgar-Cabrera, is serving a four-year sentence for helping Francisco Melgar-Cabrera escape arrest in Albuquerque. He will be deported to El Salvador when he completes his sentence.

“Then the two of them can live together in freedom in El Salvador,” Garcia said. “That’s an idea I don’t want to think about.”

She describes her daughter as a “gentle spirit” who was a self-taught artist and rode her bicycle everywhere.

She planned to be a pharmacy technician and was studying to pass the test to earn her certificate while working at the restaurant.

For the last four years, Garcia has shown up at federal court for hearings for Melgar-Cabrera’s accomplices in the robbery that led to her daughter’s murder.

She fears Melgar-Cabrera will never be held accountable.

“I am afraid he will get off scot-free,” she said.

She and her children don’t believe in the death penalty and did not object when federal prosecutors announced a decision not to seek the death penalty against the other two involved in the holdup that day, Marvin Aguilar-Lopez and Pablo De Leon Ortiz.

A memorial built by the family of Stephanie Anderson stands next to the West Side restaurant where Anderson worked.

A memorial built by the family of Stephanie Anderson stands next to the West Side restaurant where Anderson worked.

“We understood that there might not be enough evidence for a death penalty,” she said. “We were hoping for life in prison.”

Anderson died when one of the robbers slipped on spilled ice and fired his gun. Anderson was struck and killed by a ricochet bullet.

Delays in the sentencing of Aguilar-Lopez, who agreed to a 40-year sentence in a guilty plea agreement, have also been frustrating.

“They say they question his competency,” she said. “He always looked competent to me, but he is back pedaling away from his deal.”

She said the family was consulted and invited into discussions with federal prosecutors, whom she praises for working hard on her daughter’s case.

“Everyone is very professional,” she said. “The judge in the case (U.S. District Judge William “Chip” Johnson) has been very thorough and patient.”

But in the final analysis, Garcia said she wants the government of El Salvador to send Melgar-Cabrera back to the United States so she can close the door on her family’s pain.

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