Stephanie Anderson’s mother, Priscilla Garcia, vented her anger at her daughter’s killer on Wednesday as she recounted four years of waiting for Marvin Aguilar-Lopez to be sentenced.
As his plea agreement spelled out, Aguilar-Lopez, a 26-year-old Salvadoran in the United States illegally, was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison on Wednesday. By accepting Aguilar-Lopez’s guilty plea to felony murder and armed robbery, U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson was also signing off on the prison term.
“My heart was shattered,” Garcia said of the day she learned the unimaginable – that her daughter had fallen to an act of random violence.
Anderson, 34, loved dogs and created art at Off Center Community Arts when she wasn’t working as a cook at Denny’s.
Anderson was at work on June 20, 2009, when three masked men entered the packed West Side restaurant for a holdup. Aguilar-Lopez tripped, the gun fired and the bullet ricocheted off a door and struck Anderson, according to police.
She died almost immediately.
Garcia, who stood at the courtroom podium Wednesday with her daughters, Andrea and Christina, recalled coming to court soon after the shooting and watching to see which one of 16 prisoners brought in for various crimes was the man charged with killing Anderson. And she remembered on that day having to look away “because the anger was taking over.”
She said Stephanie’s ashes sit in her home amid photos and her artwork and candles.
Garcia recalled touching her daughter’s small hands at the mortuary, and the day Aguilar-Lopez entered a guilty plea – one he later tried unsuccessfully to withdraw.
She criticized Aguilar-Lopez for showing no remorse.
In the defendant’s turn at the podium, Aguilar-Lopez’s attorney Benjamin Gonzales asked for permission to hold the microphone while his client read a letter aloud to the family.
Aguilar-Lopez turned to face the family in the gallery and read some of the letter in Spanish, translated by the official court interpreter, and other parts in English, before he was overcome by emotion and couldn’t continue.
He said he had not intended “to read it (the letter) in front of everybody because I don’t care what they think. I care what you think. … I know what it feels like when you lose a loved one.”
Gonzales finished reading the letter, in which Aguilar-Lopez said he was “deeply sorry for all that you’re going through. Words cannot describe my feeling and pain. It kills me inside that you are suffering. … No one deserves to suffer.”
Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz had initially said Anderson was chased down and shot as she ran from the robbers, but police investigative reports later said the gun discharged in the course of the robbery.
Although there were suggestions that the robbers were affiliated with the Salvadoran MS 13 gang, that was not the case with regard to Aguilar-Lopez, Gonzales told the court – a statement backed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Valencia.
Aguilar-Lopez, also identified as Lopez-Aguilar, had no prior criminal history, unlike his co-defendants Pablo DeLeon Ortiz and Francisco Melgar-Cabrera.
Ortiz, who had a criminal history in El Salvador, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Melgar-Cabrera, who authorities say planned the Denny’s robbery and a string of other armed robberies on the West Side, escaped within minutes of the shooting, aided by his brother. He remains in El Salvador, which has so far refused to extradite him.