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Suspect in shooting to remain held without bond

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A local judge Friday ruled that the case of a man accused in a fatal shooting will go to trial and the suspect will remain held without bond until the trial concludes.

Manuel Villarreal (Submitted Photo)

Following a 3-hour-long concurrent preliminary examination and pretrial detention hearing Friday, Judge Dustin K. Hunter of New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District ruled that the case of Manuel Villarreal, 36, of Roswell, will be bound over to District Court for trial. He also granted the district attorney’s expedited motion for pre-trial detention of Villarreal, which will allow for the suspect to be held without bond pending trial.

Hunter cited what he described as “the spontaneous-type nature” of the shooting as a main reason for granting the motion.

“That tells me that there is no conditions of release that I could come up with that would protect the community from a similar situation,” he said.

Sandra Gallagher, Villarreal’s defense attorney, asked that a reasonable bond be set for her client.

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Villarreal, who appeared at Friday’s hearing via video from the Chaves County Detention Center, is charged with one count each of first-degree murder, willful and deliberate; bribery of a witness, bribes or threats; and receipt, transportation or possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon, in connection with the Nov. 20 deadly shooting of John Halfmann, 43.

Dianna Luce, district attorney for New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District, called four witnesses at the hearing. Gallagher did not call any witnesses for the defense.

One of the individuals called to testify was a man who was allegedly at the location when the incident happened.

The eyewitness testified that the night of Halfmann’s death, the victim visited him at a shed he lives in on East Fifth Street and brought his guitar and amplifier with him.

He testified that sometime later, Villarreal and another man, who the eyewitness said were friends of his, stopped by and visited for about a minute.

The eyewitness said he was sitting on his bed playing on his phone and that the other man who accompanied Villarreal was also seated on the foot of the bed.

Halfmann, the eyewitness said, was sitting in a chair at the time playing the song “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne on his guitar when the eyewitness suddenly heard what sounded like the sound of someone being punched really hard.

“It just happened immediately. No words were exchanged,” he said.

The music, the eyewitness said, then stopped and he heard Villarreal use a derogatory name to address Halfmann. The eyewitness testified that when he looked up from his phone, he saw Villarreal allegedly kick Halfmann in the back of the head and Halfmann then slumped over.

“Then I was told I better not say anything or I would be next,” the eyewitness said.

Villarreal and the other visitor then left. The eyewitness testified he had not seen any gun that night or heard the sound of a gunshot.

“I didn’t know he was shot until later on,” the eyewitness said.

He said he initially believed Halfmann was knocked unconscious and subsequently tried to revive him. That is when he noticed blood coming from Halfmann’s head. The eyewitness testified he then called 911.

Officer Tan Nguyen of the Roswell Police Department, who had interviewed Villarreal after he was apprehended at a Beech Avenue house, testified Friday that Villarreal admitted to being in the shed with the eyewitness, the other man and Halfmann. He said he remembered seeing a rifle and a handgun in the shed and remembers picking up the handgun.

“After that, he said he just remembers being in the Hondo (River),” Nguyen said in his testimony.

Nguyen said that Villarreal did not say who killed Halfmann or whether he did or did not fire the gun. Villarreal did say he had the gun in the Hondo with him, but did not answer police questions as to whether the gun was in the Hondo.

When he asked Villarreal where the gun was, Nguyen testified, Villarreal responded that he was sure they had found it and that he knew he couldn’t have a gun.

Police searched the Hondo River and the shed but did not find any firearms, Gino Basile, a detective with the RPD who was on the scene of the crime, said. Nguyen testified no handgun was found at the 900 block of North Beech Avenue residence Villarreal was staying at when he was arrested.

In her cross examination, Gallagher raised doubts about the testimony of the eyewitness.

She said the eyewitness initially gave police a false account of what happened, something the eyewitness himself, during his testimony, conceded was true.

“I lied to the police officers, told them I didn’t see anything,” he said. The eyewitness explained in his testimony that he did that because he feared for his life.

Initially the eyewitness told the police when they arrived the night of the shooting that he had left the shed to go into the main house on the property to use the bathroom. According to court documents, the eyewitness then told police that when he returned to the shed 15 or 20 minutes later, he found the victim bleeding and slumped over.

When asked whether he had used any illicit substance the day or night leading up to the shooting, the eyewitness said he “probably did” use methamphetamine on the evening of the shooting, hours before the incident took place.

When questioned by the defense, Basile said he knew the eyewitness to have used methamphetamine in the past and some of the characteristics the eyewitness displayed — such as being anxious — are consistent with those of someone who is under the influence of methamphetamine.

However, Basile said, it was difficult to determine if the eyewitness was under the influence because that same individual had health issues and actually had to be transported to the hospital for treatment after he was brought to the police station to be interviewed.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301 or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.