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Jury Returns Not Guilty Verdict in Las Vegas, N.M., Road-Rage Case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Richard Baca, who was home on leave from a military tour in Iraq when he shot and killed a former Robertson High School football star during a road-rage incident in Las Vegas, N.M., was found not guilty in the case Friday.

A state District Court jury in Santa Rosa deliberated about 2½ hours before acquitting Baca, who was 21 when he shot Benito Lemos, 22, in November 2009. Baca was facing a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Baca’s lawyer, Jeff Buckels, said the jury sent a message to the people of Las Vegas that getting out of a car to beat another driver — Baca was punched by Lemos before the shooting — is “dangerous, explosive behavior” that shouldn’t be tolerated.

“We have police to handle grievances about close calls out on the street,” Buckels said.

Both sides agreed that Lemos, a mail carrier, got out of the car he was riding in with his fiancee and small children, approached Baca’s car and was punching Baca before the shooting took place.

Lemos was upset about how Baca had been driving in a near-collision between the two cars and approached Baca after the two cars stopped at 12th and National in Las Vegas.

District Attorney Richard Flores Friday said he respected the jury’s decision although he didn’t necessarily agree with it. “We just don’t feel that using deadly force against non-deadly force is legal,” Flores said.

Baca and defense attorney Buckels maintained the fatal shooting was in self-defense in the face of an assault by the much larger Lemos. Buckels said Baca warned Lemos he had a gun.

Lucy Lemos, Benito Lemos’ mother, said Friday she was just glad the trial was over. “Nothing is going to bring my son back,” she said.

But she said laws should be changed to keep people from carrying guns where they can end up being used in cases like this one. “A lot of us didn’t understand you could carry guns in the city limits and do all this,” she said.

“I just hope this doesn’t put all this stuff in kids’ minds, (such as) ‘I’m going to buy me a gun so that if somebody hits me, I’m going to kill ’em,’ ” she said.

“I don’t know, I thought this was against the law,” she added. “It’s unreal.”

Baca, a Los Lunas National Guard specialist who was in Las Vegas visiting family during his break from Iraq, shot Lemos three times with a Glock 9 mm handgun that he said he was planning to try out at a shooting range.

Prosecutors maintained Baca had other options to defend himself — including a Maglite flashlight in the car or knives he was carrying — or could have rolled up the window, hit Lemos with the car door or driven away.