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Witness found two days too late

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After days of searching and a media campaign, police found the sole witness in a murder case just two days after prosecutors – believing she wouldn’t be found – made a deal with the alleged shooter.

The District Attorney’s Office hammered out a plea agreement May 5 with Darrius Valles, who agreed to a seven-year sentence in exchange for his plea to second-degree murder and lesser charges, according to spokesman Michael Patrick.

“When he signed the plea,” Patrick said, “we did not know where the only witness to the crime was.”

On May 7, Albuquerque police found Deamber Yonker and booked her into jail on a material witness warrant, Patrick said.

On Wednesday, Valles formally accepted the plea agreement reached May 5 in a hearing before state District Judge Brett Loveless. He will be sentenced today.

Albuquerque Metropolitan Crime Stoppers in late May offered a $5,000 reward for information on Yonker’s whereabouts. Her photo was plastered on billboards and shared in local news stories.

“It’s obviously frustrating when … you make a plea agreement,” Patrick said, “and two days later the key witness, the only witness in the case, is discovered here in Albuquerque.”

According to court documents, Valles was fighting with Jerry Jennings on Jan. 15, 2016, when Jennings was shot. Yonker called 911, and said her boyfriend, Valles, shot Jennings in self defense.

Patrick said if Yonker had been available the state would have pushed for a sentence of nine or more years. But the deal was made “in good faith,” he said, and prosecutors felt an obligation to go ahead with it even after Yonker was located. He also acknowledged that Yonker’s testimony may or may not have helped the state’s case.

Valles’ defense attorney Tom Clark said without Yonker the state would have trouble placing Valles at the scene of the shooting. Clark asked the judge to dismiss the murder charge against Valles last month because the critical witness was not available. When Yonker was taken into custody, it was clear that the state’s May 5 offer was in his client’s best interest.

“Given the facts of the case, and given the fact that Deamber was able to testify at trial and identify my guy as the gunman,” he said, “that gave us more reason to resolve the case in some sort of negotiated manner.”

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