Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
With the victim’s family looking on, a man accused of fatally shooting an Albuquerque woman in her driveway in 2019 got his wish on Tuesday to go to trial on state murder charges in her death before facing criminal immigration proceedings in Texas federal court.
“It’s a difficult decision,” Luis Talamantes-Romero’s defense attorney Angela Saad Lindsey said Tuesday at what was supposed to be a federal sentencing hearing in San Antonio, Texas, for Talamantes-Romero. He pleaded guilty in 2020 to illegal reentry into the U.S. for the fourth time.
“He would like to be tried in New Mexico in front of a jury of his peers,” she told U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam, in asking for the postponement of the sentencing hearing.
She said her client, a 33-year-old Mexican national who lived in Albuquerque, professes his innocence in connection with the slaying of Jacqueline Vigil, 55, in November 2019.
Federal prosecutors in New Mexico had hoped to enhance Talamantes-Romero’s federal reentry sentence to 20 years in prison by presenting evidence to show that he allegedly killed Vigil while in the U.S. illegally. Talamantes-Romero allegedly fled New Mexico in the days after the shooting to stay with relatives in San Antonio, Texas, where he was arrested in January 2020 on immigration charges.
With Vigil’s husband, Sam Vigil, and son Raul Vigil in the audience, acting U.S. Attorney Fred Federici told the judge on Tuesday he would abide by his previous offer to seek a delay of the illegal reentry sentencing until Talamantes-Romero was tried on the murder and other charges in New Mexico related to her death.
A trial date in that state case is set for September 2022 in Albuquerque, but Talamantes-Romero is expected to remain in federal custody for now.
“I don’t anticipate the government will be backing off our motion (to enhance his sentence) regardless of the outcome,” Federici said of the state murder prosecution.
At a hearing last May, Talamantes-Romero’s defense attorney contended it would be prejudicial and unfair to her client to face a “mini-murder trial” in the immigration case before being tried in Albuquerque. The federal judge also voiced concerns that whatever ruling he would impose could taint the potential jury pool in the murder case.
The slaying, which had been investigated by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and the Albuquerque Police Department for months without an arrest, made national headlines in July 2020 after then-President Donald Trump asked the FBI to help find Vigil’s killers as part the federal initiative Operation Legend.
Talamantes-Romero was formally charged by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office in November 2020, but his name had surfaced publicly as the alleged shooter months earlier in an FBI affidavit filed in the Texas immigration case.
Investigators focused on Talamantes-Romero and another man who had been seen driving around West Side neighborhoods in the hours before the shooting, allegedly looking for vehicles to break into.
But the case nearly went awry in the spring of 2020 when APD detectives obtained what turned out to be a false confession from a man who told them he was with Talamantes-Romero at the time of the shooting. The man was later determined to have been at home at the time of the shooting and didn’t know Talamantes-Romero or anyone else involved in the case, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Investigators eventually located a man who they say was in Talamantes-Romero’s Jeep at the time of the shooting but was looking at his cellphone when it happened.
That man, Issac Ramirez Soto, pleaded guilty last November to state charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, attempt to commit aggravated burglary and larceny and has agreed to testify against Talamantes-Romero.