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SANTA FE – A judge on Friday ensured that Damian Herrera will die in prison for the 2017 shooting deaths of his mother, brother and stepfather at the family’s home in Rio Arriba County, and a fourth killing in Abiquiú.
District Judge Jason Lidyard sentenced Herrera, 26, to four consecutive life sentences for the four first-degree murder convictions, plus 9½ years for seven other felonies.
“You have shown this court that you have a penchant for extreme violence and that the only way to protect the community from you is to remove you from it,” Lidyard said before handing down the sentence.
The sentence was met with subdued cheers from members of two families who lost loved ones during Herrera’s two-county shooting rampage on Jan. 15, 2017.
Herrera has yet to be tried for a fifth fatal shooting the same day in rural Taos County.
Carissa Herrera, Damian Herrera’s sister, asked the judge to sentence her brother to life without possibility of parole. She had just turned 16 when she witnessed the killings of three family members.
She recalled how her mother, Maria Rosita “Brenda” Gallegos, 49, begged for her life before Damian Herrera shot her once in the head.
Gallegos died the following day. Carissa described the killings for jurors at her brother’s trial.
“I will never be the same because Damian ruined my life,” she said. “I have a hard time trusting people because it was my own family, my own blood, who did this. He has split my family apart and did so much damage that I will never recover from.”
Damian Herrera, who chose not to speak Friday, showed little emotion throughout the hearing. His attorney, Todd Farkas, said Herrera maintains his innocence and intends to appeal the verdicts.
Herrera testified in his own defense, telling jurors that he had no responsibility for any of the shootings and implicating other family members.
Jurors also found Herrera guilty of fatally shooting his stepfather, Max Trujillo Sr., 55, and his brother, Brendon Herrera, 20. Both died at the scene. The three family members all were fatally shot outside the family’s home in the small community of La Madera, about 30 miles north of Española.
About five hours later, Herrera shot Manuel Serrano, 59, a stranger to Herrera, multiple times in the back as he filled up at a gas station in Abiquiú, about 25 miles southwest of La Madera. Serrano died at the scene.
“Nothing since that gruesome day has been the same,” Serrano’s daughter, Angela Stewart, said during the hearing.
“Without him, there is no more comfort or joy or peace in our lives,” she said. “My mother was everything to him and he showed it daily. He absolutely adored her.”
Jurors convicted Herrera of 11 felony charges in all, including aggravated fleeing from law officers, attempt to disarm a law officer, assaulting a law officer, possession of a stolen vehicle and other crimes.
Herrera is charged separately in the shooting death of Michael Alan Kyte, 61, a retired U.S. Forest Service archaeologist who was found shot to death on Forest Road 222 in far western Taos County.
Kyte’s death occurred the same day as the other four killings, police say.
Herrera faces charges of first-degree murder and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle for allegedly killing Kyte and taking his pickup.
That trial has not been scheduled.