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          Front Page




Shooting Suspect Missed Probation Appointment

By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

       Four days before he allegedly killed a young artist, Joseph Espinoza was supposed to meet with his probation officer to get fitted for a GPS tracking device.
    He missed his appointment.
    Now, Albuquerque police and probation officers are hunting for Espinoza, 29, who has been charged with the July 13 killing of Lawrence Vargas, 23, an artist and city animal welfare worker.
    It's not the first time probation officers have hunted Espinoza, who police say is a known gang member. Before being released from prison and placed on probation June 5, Espinoza had been on probation or parole two other times.
    "Unfortunately, we see this all too often," said New Mexico Corrections Department spokeswoman Tia Bland. "He is the perfect example of a career criminal. There are a lot of them in and out."
    According to police, on July 13, Espinoza was in a black Cadillac blocking the exit to the parking garage near Third and Gold.
    Police say Espinoza, 29, got into a fight with one of Vargas' friends and went after them with a gun after they tried to walk away.
    Espinoza fired one shot, striking Vargas, who police say was not an instigator in the fight.
    Espinoza remained at large late Monday.
    "We believe he is very dangerous based on his past history toward violence, which led up to this," Albuquerque police Sgt. Carlos Argueta said. "We are actively looking for him, but we need the public's help. We feel that he does have an extended network of friends that are helping him, and we are asking for him to turn himself in."
    According to Bland, Espinoza first went to prison in 1998 after being convicted of kidnapping a young child. The next year, he was convicted of possession of a deadly weapon in connection with an assault on a corrections officer, Bland said.
    He was released in 2001 and placed on parole. In 2002, he violated his parole and was sent back to prison.
    The next year, he was released on probation. In 2006, he violated his probation and was incarcerated until June 5 of this year, when he was released and put on 17 months' probation.
    Bland said probation officers had contact with Espinoza the day after he was released from prison, and they decided to put him on a GPS monitoring device.
    Espinoza was supposed to get the device, which wraps around the ankle, on July 8. The next day, he called one of his probation officers and left a voice message apologizing for missing the appointment, saying he had gotten a job at a restaurant and was busy. He promised to reschedule the appointment but never did.
    "It looked like he was trying to comply and do the right thing by calling," Bland said. "What happened after that is anyone's guess."
    Bland said the ankle bracelet probably would not have prevented the killing. The bracelets are used to alert authorities if a probationer is somewhere he shouldn't be, such as a school or a prior victim's house. The terms and conditions of Espinoza's probation didn't prevent him from being at the garage that night, so the bracelet wouldn't have sent out an alert.
    Police need help
    Anyone with information on Joseph Espinoza's whereabouts is asked to call 843-STOP. Callers do not have to reveal their identities to receive a reward of up to $1,000.