Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
A judge on Tuesday sentenced Darian Bashir to life in prison for the 2019 shooting death of University of New Mexico baseball player Jackson Weller outside a Nob Hill nightclub.
Before handing down the maximum possible sentence, state District Judge Cindy Leos recalled the difficulty she had watching security video of Weller’s fatal shooting shown repeatedly during the trial.
The evidence in the case “was some of the most damning … I have ever seen,” Leos said, adding that Bashir, 25, appeared to walk away casually and without remorse after shooting 23-year-old Weller.
Bashir’s purpose in showing up at the scene “was to mete out justice as he saw fit,” Leos said.
The 2nd Judicial District Court jury needed only half a day Nov. 9 to reach the verdict. Jurors also convicted Bashir of tampering with evidence for hiding a license plate that helped link him to the killing.
The first-degree murder charge has a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years before Bashir is eligible for parole. Leos sentenced him to an additional three years for the tampering conviction, to run consecutive to the 30-year sentence.
Weller’s parents and sister described their difficulties living without their son and brother, and asked the judge to hand Bashir the longest possible sentence.
“We learned after two Thanksgivings without him that we couldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving,” his mother, Lisa Praeger Weller, told the judge. “There’s a hole in our family too big to fill.”
Weller had always wanted a large family with at least four children, his parents said, and had many other goals, which he logged in a notebook, including playing professional baseball.
“With his life cut short, he accomplished only one – to make a lasting impact on the world,” Praeger Weller said.
Weller’s sister, Madison Weller, said she temporarily sought care in a residential treatment center a year ago because of her difficulty coping with her brother’s loss.
“Learning to live without him has been the hardest thing I will ever have to do,” she said. “His death left a hole in my heart that will never heal.”
Leos rejected a request from Bashir’s attorney, Joseph Sullivan, to reduce Bashir’s conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.
As he did at trial, Sullivan argued that Bashir felt endangered at the time of the shooting, in part because he is a Black man.
Sullivan said Bashir did not arrive at Richmond and Central NE with the intention to kill Weller.
“There was no evidence of a racially motivated crime from Jackson’s perspective,” Leos said. “There was zero evidence of provocation.”
Bashir apologized to the Weller family shortly before he was sentenced.
“I offer the deepest and most sincere apology to the Weller family, and the family of my own,” he said.
Deya Bashir, his mother, asked the judge for leniency, saying that Darian Bashir has a young son with autism who needs his father.
“I ask the court to keep this little boy in mind,” she said. “His son doesn’t deserve not to have a father figure in his life.”
Prosecutors told jurors that Bashir fatally shot Weller on May 4, 2019, out of revenge for an earlier fight between Weller and one of Bashir’s close friends.
Bashir was not involved in the fight, but arrived on Richmond NE near Central just minutes later, prosecutors said.
A second UNM baseball player standing beside Weller at the time of the shooting testified that Bashir approached them and asked if Weller had been involved in the fight.
Prosecutors argued that Bashir intended to shoot Weller and wanted to ascertain that Weller had been in the fight.
After Weller acknowledged that he was in the fight, Bashir asked the athletes to follow him, according to testimony. Security video showed that, after the athletes had followed Bashir about 10 steps, Bashir wheeled around and fired a single gunshot into Weller’s chest.
Testifying in his own defense, Bashir acknowledged that he fired the shot that killed Weller.
But Bashir’s attorney, Robert Aragon, told jurors that Bashir felt intimidated because the two athletes were following closely behind him and making offensive comments.
Weller’s killing rocked Albuquerque and fueled debate about changes to the judicial system.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez argued at the time that Bashir should have been in jail awaiting trial on prior charges, including shooting at or from a motor vehicle and two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.
The killing helped prompt a high-profile crime proposal now under discussion in the Legislature that would make it easier to hold people accused of certain crimes in jail pending trial. The killing was also one factor that led Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to deploy 50 State Police officers in Albuquerque for several weeks to help quell violence.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the length of time Madison Weller remained in a residential treatment center.