Sam Vigil will never be able to get the image out of his head.
His wife, Jacque, an immigrant from Colombia whose two sons grew up to be New Mexico State Police officers, had just left their home in an upscale West Side neighborhood at 5 a.m. last Nov. 19 to go to the gym when he heard the horn on her Cadillac sedan. He went outside thinking she had forgotten her gym bag. Instead, he encountered a horrific scene in which Jacque had been shot and killed, slumped over in the vehicle that was still locked with the engine running.
“I noticed the bullet hole,” he said in a Journal interview in February. “They just shot her through the window of the car. And then I noticed the Jeep begin to pull out like a bat out of hell. … And I saw a face in that Jeep. … And it was just the most awful moment of my life. It still haunts me to this day.”
At least now, Sam Vigil told the Journal on Wednesday, he might be able to sleep at night with news that the suspect in his wife’s murder – 33-year-old Mexican national Luis Talamantes – is behind bars in Texas on felony illegal reentry charges.
We should all sleep better. Talamantes, a member of a Juárez-based street gang, was roaming neighborhoods in the predawn hours looking for something to steal, according to court documents. The preferred theft targets were Cadillacs and guns.
Federal agents and prosecutors went to court in San Antonio last week seeking to increase Talamantes’ possible prison sentence in the immigration case from about five years to 20 given his long criminal history and his alleged role in the murder of Jacque Vigil – who worked in a child care center and texted prayer verses morning and night to loved ones. She was 55.
Previously deported three times, Talamantes had already pleaded guilty to the reentry charges. He was arrested by ICE agents in January and has been in custody since. He has not been charged in Jacque Vigil’s death.
The federal government in 38 pages detailed evidence in the case along with Talamantes’ criminal history that includes domestic violence, criminal damage to property, aggravated stalking, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, receiving stolen property, shooting at a dwelling or occupied building and commercial burglary. He has done time in both state and federal prison.
“On this particular morning, J.V. suffered the tragic misfortune of opening her garage door and backing her car onto her driveway at the same time defendant was lurking nearby as he was looking for items to steal,” FBI Agent Bryan Acee wrote.
Jacque Vigil’s murder hit the national spotlight in July when President Donald Trump invited Sam Vigil to the White House as part of a press conference on Operation Legend, in which federal agents work with local partners in an effort to take down violent crime around the country.
Sam Vigil said there hadn’t seemed to be much progress in solving Jacque’s case – one of a record 80 murders in the city last year. “Once federal agents started working the case, things began to happen,” he told Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild.
While federal agents laid out their case in court filings on Wednesday – Acee also was a key agent in Juárez cartel and Syndicato prosecutions – Mayor Tim Keller and APD chief Mike Geier were busy issuing a press release claiming credit.
“We are fortunate that APD has been doing the hard work over the last nine months to identify a suspect and ensure he was locked up,” they said. “The suspect was identified and arrested as a result of the work of APD homicide detectives long before Operation Legend and the U.S. Attorney got involved.”
Without question, work done by APD was recognized in the federal documents. APD’s call to Texas authorities is what got Talamantes picked up early this year. Crime Stoppers also played a role with tips.
But patting your own back to the exclusion of others’ nine long months after a heinous crime is tone deaf at best. So far the feds have let court documents do their talking, although it’s hard to imagine Trump won’t use this case for his own political agenda.
Politics aside, all this begs the proverbial elephant-in-the-room question. If APD had built such a solid case, why didn’t it arrest Talamantes and charge him with murder? Why was it up to federal agents and prosecutors to use an illegal immigration case to lay out the evidence in a killing that rocked Albuquerque like none has since little Victoria Martens? Why has it been left to federal authorities to keep Talamantes – a career criminal – locked up as long as possible?
Meanwhile, District Attorney Raúl Torrez says he is committed to prosecuting Talamantes once the investigation “is concluded and formally submitted to our office.” And why hasn’t that happened yet? Why does it appear the mayor and chief seem more interested in public relations than a viable murder prosecution?
Or is the district attorney dragging his feet, perhaps still feeling burned by the flawed APD investigation that turned the Martens prosecution into a courtroom debacle and left the case in the unsolved-murder column?
The evidence laid out in the federal court documents is compelling. It ranges from matched shell casings to an alleged confession by Talamantes to an inmate at MDC during a recorded telephone call. So give credit where it’s due: the feds have demonstrated in the past that they know how to put a case together. Now building on evidence gathered by APD, it appears they have done it again.
But they don’t have jurisdiction to bring the state charge that should be filed here. And that’s murder. That’s up to APD and the district attorney. The community deserves to know why that hasn’t happened – and if it ever will. That would be a press release worth reading.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.