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Suspects in Garfield double murder appear in Las Cruces court

LAS CRUCES – Family members of a slain Garfield couple almost filled an entire Las Cruces courtroom on Monday as they watched the suspects in the double-murder case make their first court appearances following their arrests last week.

Luis Flores, 29, and Cristal Cardenas, 30, both of Las Cruces, were arrested on March 28 in the slayings of Vanessa Rodriguez Mora, 32, and Mario Cabral, 34, who were found shot dead on March 25 in their mobile home in the 3200 block of Carriage Hills in the unincorporated community of Garfield, north of Hatch.

Flores and Cardenas were each charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit a first-degree felony and criminal solicitation, according to the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office. Details of the slayings have not been released to the public at the request of the 3rd Judicial District’s Attorney’s Office.

Family members appeared visibly shaken and many shed tears as Flores and Cardenas made separate, back-to-back initial appearances in 3rd Judicial District Court.

Flores and Cardenas, represented by public defenders, each entered formal not-guilty pleas. Aside for answering “yes” or “no” to questions from the judge, the suspects did not speak during their hearings.

Remaining behind bars

Prior to the hearings, the District Attorney’s Office filed pretrial detention motions in each case asking the court to keep Flores and Cardenas in custody without bail until trial, arguing they pose dangers to the public and flight risks if released on bail.

Jennifer Birmingham, who represented Flores, and Todd Holmes, who represented Cardenas, each told the court that they had little time to review to the motions because they had been filed just that morning.

Still, Birmingham stipulated to holding Flores without bond until, or if, she files a motion to reconsider bond at a later date. Because the motion in Flores’ case was stipulated, it was granted by Judge Conrad Perea, who presided over both hearings.

Holmes, however, requested additional time for prepare arguments in Cardenas’ hearing, waiving time limits associated with pretrial detention rules. Her pretrial detention hearing was rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday in Perea’s courtroom. Until then, Cardenas will remain in custody without bond, Perea ruled.

She and Flores are being held at the Doña Ana County Detention Center.

After the hearings, one of Cabral’s sisters, Yuliana Cabral, expressed relief that the suspects in her loved ones’ slayings would remain behind bars, at least for now.

“This is what we wanted. This is what we were waiting for because, obviously, they have enough evidence against them,” she said.

Miscarriage, then murder

Cabral said this was her first time seeing Flores and Cardenas in person since their arrests. Cardenas had been married to one of her other brothers, she said, but the marriage had ended.

She said Cardenas had been part of her family for about eight years, adding that Flores had been Cardenas’ longtime “lover” even when she was married to her brother.

“We didn’t see any reaction (from) Luis, except looking around and looking at the family. He knows my brother and Vanessa had a lot of support from the whole family,” Cabral said, “but looking at Cristal’s smirk on her face was just another slap at our faces again.”

Cabral said her brother Mario and Mora were not married but had been in a relationship. They each had their children and were expecting their first child together, Cabral said.

But days before the slayings, Mora experienced a miscarriage, she said. She was about five months pregnant, according to Cabral.

“And now this,” she said, “we had to go through that pain once and now again for two people — for two people that were loved; two people that will be loved; and people that will never be forgotten.”

She added: “We want justice. We want justice for the both of them because nobody deserves this. Nobody deserves what we are going through.”

Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, carlopez@lcsun-news.com or @carlopez_los on Twitter.

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