LOS LUNAS – The attorney representing 15-year-old Brandon Villalobos hinted that her client’s mental status would be a key part of his defense, saying she does not believe the teen understands either the charges or his rights due to his “low mental functioning.”
It would not be the first time Villalobos avoided criminal prosecution because he was considered incompetent to face charges – charges were dropped in a case last year, and a battery case is pending while his competency is determined.
The special education ninth-grader at Los Lunas High School, who has a 4-month-old daughter being taken care of by his parents, is charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the death of 12-year-old Alex Madrid.
Villalobos’ attorney, Cindy Mercer, “denied” the charges, essentially pleading not guilty, during his detention hearing Thursday morning.
Villalobos, who is from Meadow Lake in Valencia County, was an on-again, off-again friend of Madrid, whose body was found beneath a mattress in a brushy, littered field near the Villalobos home.
Mercer asked the court to release Villalobos to his parents, where he would remain on strict house arrest with GPS monitoring. But District Court Judge William A. Sanchez instead agreed to Assistant District Attorney Bryan McKay’s request that Villalobos be detained pending further proceedings.
“We believe he is a danger to himself or others,” McKay said, and noted Villalobos’ previous arrests on battery and other charges.
Villalobos’ mother, Loretta Villalobos, told the Journal in a phone interview Thursday afternoon that “My son is mentally retarded” and the previous cases against him all stemmed “from being picked on while he was at Los Lunas Middle School.” The ninth-grader is currently enrolled in special education classes at Los Lunas High School but mentally functions at a third- to fifth-grade level, his mother said.
“If you gave Brandon money, he wouldn’t know how to count it. He’s big for his age, but his mind doesn’t work like a regular person his age. He doesn’t understand. The only thing he says is ‘Why am I here? I didn’t do nothing wrong.'”
The handcuffed teenager shuffled into the courtroom wearing dark blue sweat pants and a light blue T-shirt. His head remained bent as he gazed at the floor. He didn’t speak or address the court.
His mother and father sat in the courtroom, an aisle separating them from a crowd of Madrid family and friends. Alex’s mother, Roxanne Madrid, was teary-eyed, as was Loretta Villalobos. The suspect’s father, Arnulfo Villalobos, frequently dropped his head and covered his face with his hands.
“I just want justice for my son,” Roxanne Madrid said outside the courtroom. “My son was a good boy. He didn’t deserve this. He wanted to be friends with Brandon. I don’t know how Brandon felt. He had hit my son before. I told my son to stay away from him, but Alex still wanted to be his friend.”
May be tried as adult
The state has 10 days to decide whether Villalobos will be charged as an adult.
In New Mexico, a youth age 14 and older can be tried as an adult, and, in murder cases , the prosecution nearly always does so, 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said. He was awaiting reports from police investigators before making that determination, he said.
Mercer, who has represented Villalobos before, successfully argued in a November 2011 “public affray” case that the teen was not mentally competent. A forensic evaluation affirmed that and in April 2013 Judge Sanchez signed off on the “Order Establishing Child’s Incompetence” and the charges were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled.
Villalobos also has two battery charges, one from September 2011 that remains pending until competency is determined, and the other from February 2010, which was dismissed after he completed 24 hours of community service and had no referrals to the Juvenile Probation Department for six months.
Death from ‘trauma’
Valencia Country Sheriff Louis Burkhard said Madrid’s death was from “severe trauma,” but he did not say what that trauma was from, although he confirmed a firearm was not involved.
He said his office was contacted by Madrid’s mother, who reported her son missing late Tuesday afternoon after she went to pick him up from Villalobos’ home and found he wasn’t there.
Deputies questioned Villalobos, and at about 5 p.m. he led them to a nearby vacant field and Madrid’s body, which had been covered with a discarded mattress.
Villalobos initially told investigators that he and Alex were confronted by three males in a nearby vacant home and that one of the males killed Alex with a crowbar, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Villalobos later told investigators that he and Alex argued after Alex said something about Villalobos’ daughter, according to the affidavit. He told investigators Alex attempted to stab him with a screwdriver and that Brandon hit him once in the face.
Villalobos is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 235 pounds; Madrid was no taller than 4 feet, 8 inches and didn’t weigh more than 85 pounds, his mother said.
Loretta Villalobos confirmed that her son has a 4-month-old daughter, whom she and her husband are caring for. The 14-year-old biological mother of the baby lives in Albuquerque. She declined to say more about her.
“Brandon does a little to help the baby,” she said. “He helps feed her and change her and folds her clothes, but he couldn’t take care of her on his own.”
Roxanne Madrid said police still haven’t clued her into what might have happened between Villalobos and her son. She said the two had an on-again-off-again friendship, but claimed it was Villalobos who caused rifts between them.