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Man pleads not guilty to charges in fatal shooting

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The suspect in a November deadly shooting in Roswell has pleaded not guilty to three criminal counts.

Manuel Villarreal (Submitted Photo)

District Attorney Dianna Luce of New Mexico’s Fifth Judicial District confirmed that Manuel Villarreal, 36, of Roswell, waived a formal reading of charges at his arraignment Monday and pleaded not guilty to 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.

Luce, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment further.

Sandra Gallagher, Villarreal’s attorney, could not be reached for comment about her client’s plea or the case before press time Tuesday.

Villarreal is accused of fatally shooting John Halfmann, 43, of Roswell, once in the head in the early morning hours of Nov. 20 inside a shed behind an East Fifth Street residence and then allegedly threatening a witness. Halfmann was pronounced dead on the scene by field investigators with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

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Police initially sought Villarreal for questioning in relation to the shooting. A warrant was obtained for his arrest Nov. 27 and he was subsequently located and apprehended that night at a Beech Avenue residence in Roswell. Villarreal is now being held without bond pending trial.

No clear motive has been established in the case. The witness who Villarreal is accused of threatening testified Dec. 14 at Villarreal’s concurrent preliminary examination and pretrial detention hearing that in the moments before the shooting, he was with Halfmann, Villarreal and another man in the shed.

The witness said he was on his bed looking down at his phone and Halfmann was playing his guitar just before the shooting. Though he testified that he had not seen or heard a gun, the witness said that at one point he did hear what he described as a sound similar to a very loud punch, which prompted him to look up from his phone.

He testified that when he looked up, he allegedly saw Villarreal kick Halfmann in the head and Halfmann’s body then slump forward. The witness added that Villarreal then allegedly told him “you will be next” if he told anyone about the incident.

The witness testified that at first he thought Halfmann was unconscious, but then saw Halfmann was bleeding and phoned the police.

Roswell Police Officer Tan Nguyen, who interviewed Villarreal after he was arrested, also testified at the hearing that Villarreal admitted to being in the shed with Halfmann and the other two men.

Villarreal, according to Nguyen, said that at one point he had seen a handgun in the shed and picked it up, but did not say whether or not he fired the gun and did not say who shot Halfmann.

Villarreal, Nguyen testified, said the next thing he remembered after picking up the gun in the shed was being in the Hondo River.

Electronic court records state that Judge Thomas Lilley has scheduled a status hearing in Villarreal’s case for April 19, while a jury trial has been set for June 2.

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

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