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Defendant in Rio Arriba killing spree claims his dad shot first

SANTA FE — Damian Herrera, accused of killing five people in a bloody rampage across northern New Mexico last month, maintains he was forced to shoot his stepfather because the elder man had shot Herrera’s brother and mother — contrary to the eyewitness account of another family member.

Damian Herrera

In a statement recorded by police the day of the killings, Herrera also contends it was self-defense when he later shot two complete strangers he encountered separately and by chance.

Herrera, 21, is charged with five counts of capital murder after allegedly killing three family members, a man who gave him a ride when he ran out of gas and later, a fifth victim who happened to be filling up at a gas station when Herrera pulled in.

Herrera was arrested after crashing a stolen truck shortly after he allegedly killed the final victim, 59-year-old Manuel Serrano, at a gas station in Abiquiu. State Police Agent Joey Gallegos interviewed Herrera in the back of a Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office vehicle after he was arrested.

In a transcript of the recording obtained by the Journal, Herrera told Gallegos that he and his stepfather, 55-year-old Max Trujillo, got into a fight about spilled gasoline at the family’s home in La Madera. Herrera said Trujillo got his .38 handgun and shot a round at him. He said he tried to take the gun away from Trujillo and that his brother, 20-year-old Brendon Herrera, and his mother, 49-year-old Maria Rosita “Brenda” Gallegos, got caught in the crossfire.

“And like I already told you, he started shooting at me,” Herrera said. “My brother went to go and break us up. He (expletive) shot my brother. I wrestled with him for the gun. My mom got in the middle of it. He shot her. And I had to shoot him dude.

“That guy has anger man… anger issues,” Herrera added. “History of anger issues. He’s been in the court of law with other people because he’s an alcoholic, he has shot people, he’s been shot, he’s just — it’s been crazy. … And I was just trying to help him man I have my own place. I was at my own house being peaceful by myself and I just wanted to go help my parents get some wood for winter…”

Online court records show that Trujillo’s only criminal offense in the state was a speeding ticket in 2014.

Herrera’s account conflicts with what his sister, 16-year-old Carissa Herrera, told officers.

She said she was inside the house with Brendon Herrera and Gallegos when they heard gunshots and found Trujillo outside with wounds to his chest. She saw Brendon and Damian struggling over the .38 before Damian pinned his brother against a wall and shot him in the neck. Damian then shot his mother in the head, Carissa said.

The teen was able to make it to a neighbor’s house and call for help.

Police say Herrera then drove off and ran out of gas near Tres Piedras, where he was picked up by 61-year-old Michael Kyte, a retired U.S. Forest Service archaeologist. Herrera killed Kyte outside his house and stole his Chevrolet truck, police say.

“And that guy, I asked him for gas and he (expletive), he took me to his house to get gasoline and I don’t know what the (expletive) his deal was,” Herrera told Gallegos. “He was (expletive) trying to push me out of his truck as soon as we got to his house. … And I was just defending myself dude. … I don’t know what that guy’s deal was either. I just asked him for gas because I was low on gas.”

Police say Herrera drove Kyte’s truck to Antonito, Colo., before driving back south to Chama and then to Abiquiu, where he said he again acted to defend himself by firing two shots at Serrano, who worked in security at the nearby home of the late artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

“That (expletive) guy, I was cleaning my windows and he (expletive), I don’t even know what the (expletive) he was telling me in Spanish dude and then I was just like calm down and he (expletive) started rushing me,” Herrera said.