Sergio Meraz-Nevarez, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in the Oct. 19, 2016, shooting death of Berino ranch foreman Jose Alfredo Ortiz Armendariz, 59.
Meraz-Nevarez also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon involving a person with Armendariz when Meraz-Nevarez fired two gunshots in their direction from inside a vehicle, and one count tampering with evidence for hiding a .40-caliber handgun in a nearby field.
Meraz-Nevarez entered the pleas before District Judge Douglas Driggers in 3rd Judicial District Court in Las Cruces.
According to investigators, Meraz-Nevarez had worked at a Berino farm in the 400 block of East Six Mile Road, where he was supervised by Armendariz, until he was fired on Oct. 18, 2016.
Meraz-Nevarez returned to the farm the following day in a black Ford pickup, armed with a .40-caliber handgun, according to prosecutors. Armendariz and another man, Ismael Rodriguez, had been repairing an irrigation pump when Meraz-Nevarez drove up to them in the pickup, according to court records.
“He pointed the gun out the passenger-side window of the truck, aiming at the victim, Mr. Armendariz, and fired two rounds,” prosecutor Timothy Nuccio said during Monday’s hearing. “Both of those rounds struck the victim and he was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.”
After shooting Armendariz and pointing the gun at Rodriguez, Meraz-Nevarez drove off in the pickup. Later, he stopped the truck and continued to flee on foot, during which he time he hid the gun in a field, Nuccio said.
Authorities later found Meraz-Nevarez hiding in a cotton field. He was arrested and booked into the Doña Ana County Detention Center, where he’s been held since Oct. 20, 2016.
Meraz-Nevarez agreed Monday to plead guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence as part of a plea agreement.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, Meraz-Nevarez’s murder charge was reduced from a first-degree count — which carries a life prison sentence — to a second-degree count –which is punishable up to 15 years.
Prosecutors also dismissed one count of shooting from a motor vehicle, a second-degree felony that would have been punishable up to 15 years because it resulted in a death.
The agreement called for Meraz-Nevarez to be sentenced to the maximum penalties for each of three charges he pleaded guilty to on Monday — a total of 21 and a half years in prison.
Public defender Raymond Conley said Meraz-Nevarez is not a naturalized U.S. citizen and would most likely be deported to Mexico, his home country, after serving his prison sentence. According to the initial charging documents, Meraz-Nevarez was deported to Mexico in 2013 but was in the U.S. “legally” at the time of the shooting.
But copies of similar charging documents provided by the District Attorney’s Office indicate that Meraz-Nevarez was in the U.S. “illegally” at the time of the shooting. The DA’s office also provided a transcript of Meraz-Nevarez’s interview with investigators, during which time he purportedly said, “I took so much care since they threw me to Mexico in 2013 and I came back (and) I said, I’m going to watch that they don’t give me a ticket and look. Three years, not even, not even a ticket.”
During Monday’s hearing, Armendariz’s son pleaded for justice.
“My mom, my family have been going through very tough times,” Alfredo Ortiz said, speaking to the court through a translator. “The only thing we look toward is justice — but nothing is going to bring my father back.”
Ortiz said he wanted his father’s killer to be “thrown back to Mexico and never returned back to this county.”
Meraz-Nevarez did not address the court before he was sentenced.
Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, email@example.com or @carlopez_los on Twitter.
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