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Year later, grieving father waits for justice

Father and son Richard and Nicco Sanchez, pictured here with the family dog, Sarge, are still grieving the loss of Michael Sanchez and frustrated by the fact that the man charged with killing him is still at large. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Father and son Richard and Nicco Sanchez, pictured here with the family dog, Sarge, are still grieving the loss of Michael Sanchez and frustrated by the fact that the man charged with killing him is still at large. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A year has gone by and my son’s killer is still out there. How did their feud get so out of hand? If Mike hadn’t slipped before the stabbing, he might be alive now.

Those are some of the thoughts that wander through Richard Sanchez’s head since his first-born son Michael L. “Mikey” Sanchez was stabbed 29 times in front of at least five people at a West Side gas station on June 18, 2013.

It was apparently after a dispute over a barking Chihuahua named Canello, belonging to the family of Sanchez’s neighbor, Ricardo Villanueva-Cordova, who has been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping.

It has been over a year, and the suspect hasn’t been found. Prosecutors believe he fled to Mexico. Nonetheless, he was indicted by a grand jury a year after the stabbing, on June 24, 2014, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest immediately after the incident. If found, tried and convicted, he faces a possible life sentence on the murder charge, plus 18 years and a fine of up to $15,000 for kidnapping.

M. SANCHEZ: Stabbed to death at gas station

M. SANCHEZ: Stabbed to death at gas station

Michael’s family is trying to cope with the loss in the face of justice delayed.

Richard Sanchez, a 57-year-old utility technician with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, is reaching out to local media and the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted,” hoping someone who knows something about his son’s stabbing will come forward.

“It bothers me, because how could they not catch this guy?” he wonders, speaking softly but firmly in the living room of his Northeast Heights home, while his younger son Nicco, 20, sits on the couch beside him, and the family dog, Sarge, lies on the floor near the door.

“You can’t just fall off the grid. I don’t want this guy to hide,” he said.

Based on court, police, written witness statements and verbal interviews, the stabbing was 30 seconds of mayhem, a public bloodbath.

It began early that morning, when Michael Sanchez, a tall, slender 27-year-old car lover, popped up at Villanueva-Cordova’s single-wide mobile home, where he lived with his mother, his sister and her three kids. It’s across the street and a few spaces down from where Sanchez lived alone in Longview Mobile Home Park on Albuquerque’s far West Side at 102nd and Central.

Sanchez went over cursing and complaining about Canello’s barking, which had kept him up all night. He had called the City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department on April 12 and April 26 regarding dogs at Villanueva-Cordova’s address roaming around unconfined, barking at and chasing pedestrians. The outcome: a citation for the dogs not having a license and a verbal warning, according to AAWD records.

VILLANUEVA-CORDOVA: Has not been found; believed to be in Mexico

VILLANUEVA-CORDOVA: Has not been found; believed to be in Mexico

After Sanchez’s barrage, he drove to the Valero at 98th and Volcano on his way to work at the M & F car lot on Coors, where he was due at 8:30. He’d started working there in April and had gotten a raise and a promotion the day before. Now, he was the one to open the lot every morning.

Around the same time that Sanchez drove to the gas station, someone in the Villanueva-Cordova household looked out the window and saw Canello the Chihuahua, yelping, bleeding and hurt.

Villanueva-Cordova brought the dog inside so family members could tend to it. Then, he took off in his beat-up Chevy pickup, giving his family the impression he was going to get a hose for propane. His actual destination was the Valero, according to police and court documents.

A chubby, long-haired mustached Hispanic man cut off another driver to pull up near the pump Sanchez was using, witnesses told police. Suspecting danger, Sanchez ran toward the convenience store. He lost his footing and fell, and was jumped by his assailant, who got Sanchez to the ground, put his knee in his chest, and stabbed him with a pocket knife in the chest and abdomen. Customers, a Jehovah’s Witness recruiting for an upcoming event and a truck driver making a delivery to Valero, could hear Sanchez screaming for help, according to witness statements.

As customers yelled for Valero employees to call the police, Sanchez managed to stand up briefly. Then, he collapsed behind his gold, four-door Lincoln.

The Valero at 98th and Volcano where Michael Sanchez was stabbed on June 13, 2013, in view of witnesses.

The Valero at 98th and Volcano where Michael Sanchez was stabbed on June 13, 2013, in view of witnesses.

“Help is on the way,” the Jehovah’s Witness told him, staying with him until an ambulance arrived to find him still breathing but unable to talk. He was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital, where a surgeon removed part of his lung to try to save him. It wasn’t successful. According to the autopsy report, he was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m.

The truck driver who witnessed the attack at Valero gave police the beat-up Chevy’s tag number, which led them to identify Villanueva-Cordova, who turns 35 this week, and whose prior arrest record includes DWI.

Police drove over to the mobile home park looking for him. While speaking to his mother, his 52-year-old girlfriend Ofelia Gardea showed up and said Villanueva-Cordova had just called her, very upset, and told her in Spanish: “I stabbed and killed somebody, the neighbor ran over the dog.”

According to court and police documents, she asked him whether the person was still alive, and he said he didn’t know. She told him repeatedly to go back and turn himself in, but he refused, telling her to check on his mother at the mobile home. Then, he hung up. She couldn’t get him back on the phone.

No one involved in investigating the case has seen or heard from him since.

“The defendant fled to Mexico immediately after the incident and has never been arrested,” according to Kayla Anderson, spokeswoman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

The prosecutor who will try the case if he’s found, Deputy District Attorney David L. Waymire, said Villanueva-Cordova is believed to have been born in Mexico and could have been in the U.S. legally. “The fact that there’s a Social Security number associated with him tends to suggest he was here legally,” if the Social Security number is valid, he said.

Sanchez’s father was at work when two detectives showed up at his house near Los Altos Golf Course with the bad news. They found his younger son Nicco at home, and told him his brother was gone.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Nicco, a busser at Monroe’s restaurant on Lomas. “I was shocked. You don’t expect those things to happen.”

Nicco called his father at work. A co-worker drove him home. “I couldn’t drive. I was pretty shaken up,” he said.

The year, since the stabbing has been hard. According to Sanchez, Albuquerque Police Homicide Detective Geoffery T. Stone, who is investigating the case, doesn’t often have any updates to give Sanchez, although the two talk on the phone occasionally.

APD spokeswoman Janet B. Blair, Sgt. Liz Thomson, who heads APD’s homicide unit, said in an email: “There is nothing new on this case,” and asked that anyone with information on Villanueva-Cordova’s whereabouts inform APD by calling 242-COPS.

These days, Richard Sanchez has only memories of his oldest son, a proud, private, independent loner with a skull tattoo on his right arm who had gone to Rio Grande High School but didn’t finish, getting a GED instead. He was 16 when his mother died. He had already paid off his mobile home at the time of his death.

Richard recalls that when Michael turned 21, he took him for beers at Sidelines Sports Grille and Bar on the West Side. “He didn’t have a girlfriend. He dated ‘em, but (he’d tell me) ‘Don’t expect me to give you grandkids, dad; it ain’t gonna happen.’ ”

Sanchez has since sold Michael’s mobile home. He continues going to work, spending time with his girlfriend and surviving children – with thoughts about his slain son and the person who killed him in the back of his mind.

Michael’s former boss, M & F Auto Sales General Manager Marcel Farah, said employees still think about Michael from time to time.

“Life unfortunately moves on … he wanted to build a career here, and those were our intentions, too. He was a great employee.”

At the mobile home lot to which Villanueva-Cordova’s car was registered, sits a yellow mobile home. A few garbage cans are in front, fabric hangs in the windows serving as curtains, and a satellite dish is on the roof.

A short, stout woman who answered the door after peeking through a fabric curtain said, “No entiendo (I don’t understand),” when a reporter asked for Ricardo.

Nearby, a brown Chihuahua with a limp was running in the street.

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