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The murder trial of Noah Duran lurched to a start Thursday after attorneys spent the morning debating whether a key prosecution witness should be allowed to testify.
Duran, 18, is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, aggravated battery and two other felonies in the Oct. 29, 2020, shooting death of 22-year-old Elijah Mirabal at a park in Northeast Albuquerque.
This marks Duran’s second trial on the same charges. Second Judicial District Judge Bruce Fox declared a mistrial May 2 after a jury deadlocked on all five felony counts. Jurors split 5-7 on the murder charge in that trial.
Prosecutors allege that Duran’s codefendant set up a drug deal on the social media platform Snapchat with the intention of robbing Mirabal at North Domingo Baca Park, just north of Wyoming and Paseo del Norte NE.
Mirabal pulled a handgun to defend himself and was killed in the resulting shootout, Assistant District Attorney Guinevere Ice told jurors during her opening statement.
Duran’s attorney, Ryan Villa, responded that Duran and another teenager went to the park to buy cocaine, and fired in self-defense after Mirabal pulled a pistol and began firing.
“This was not a robbery,” Villa told jurors. “Simply a drug deal gone bad.”
Before the jury was seated Thursday, Deputy District Attorney John Duran acknowledged that a key witness, Zachary Henderson, had lied under oath about two facts during his testimony in Noah Duran’s first trial, raising the possibility that Henderson could be charged with perjury.
Henderson, a key prosecution witness, was a passenger in Mirabal’s car and was shot in the leg during the exchange of gunfire.
At the request of prosecutors, 2nd Judicial District Judge Lucy Solimon granted Henderson limited immunity, allowing him to testify without putting himself at greater risk should he be charged with perjury.
Solimon rejected Villa’s request to bar Henderson from testifying. But the judge said Villa could use Henderson’s false statements to impeach his credibility with jurors.
Prosecutors contend that Noah Duran and his codefendant, Jaden Sandoval, set up the cocaine purchase as a pretext for robbing Mirabal. Ice told jurors that Duran came armed for the purpose with an AK-type rifle later recovered near the park.
Duran and Sandoval walked up to the driver’s side of Mirabal car, pulled firearms and announced a robbery, Ice told jurors.
Sandoval, 20, was charged in 2020 with first-degree murder, armed robbery and other charges. No trial has been scheduled in his case.
“Noah Duran ends up firing 17 times” based on shell casings found at the scene, Ice said. “Elijah (Mirabal) tries to defend himself, but he is not in an advantageous position. Elijah is outgunned. He is shot in the head.”
Defense attorneys responded that Duran began shooting in self-defense after Mirabal pulled a handgun and began firing, striking Duran four times and seriously injuring him.
Noah Duran likely survived only because Mirabal’s gun jammed after firing four shots, Villa said. Duran returned fire at the car after he had been struck by gunfire and was lying on the ground beside Mirabal’s car, Villa said.