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Trial begins in 2016 quintuple homicide

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Juan David Villegas-Hernandez, front, enters the courtroom and prepares to sit down Tuesday during his trial in New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District Court at the Chaves County Courthouse. Villegas-Hernandez is charged with five counts of first degree murder, willful and deliberate, in the June 11, 2016 fatal shooting of his wife and four daughters. On Tuesday after jury selection had been completed, the prosecution and defense each made their opening arguments and the state’s first witnesses provided testimony. (Alex Ross Photo)

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After a day and a half of jury selection, the trial of a man charged in the 2016 fatal shooting of his wife and four daughters got underway Tuesday.

The prosecution and defense, along with Judge Dustin K. Hunter of New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District Court, spent Monday and most of Tuesday selecting 12 jurors and four alternates in the trial of Juan David Villegas-Hernandez at the Chaves County Courthouse.

Villegas-Hernandez, 40, faces five counts of first degree murder, willful and deliberate, in the June 11, 2016 shooting deaths of his wife, 34-year-old Cynthia Villegas, and their four daughters: Yamilen, 14; Cynthia Janeth, 11; Abby, 7; and Ida, 3, at their 2503 North Davis Street residence in Roswell.

Jurors and others in the courtroom and a neighboring room were required to wear face coverings. Seating for jurors was spaced out throughout the courtroom. The podium and witness stand also had to be frequently wiped down.

Carolyn Glover, public information officer for the New Mexico 12th Judicial District Court, which is prosecuting the case, said the trial is scheduled to last until May 28, but might end sooner.

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Glover cited measures taken in the courtroom to curtail the spread of COVID-19, as well as the up to 25 witnesses that will be called by the state to testify — and multiple pieces of physical evidence presented — as reasons for the length of the trial.

RoxAnne Esquibel, chief deputy district attorney for New Mexico’s 12th Judicial District, who along with District Attorney Scot Key is prosecuting the case, contends that Villegas-Hernandez was responsible for the crime.

“The evidence in this case will show that the defendant and only the defendant had the motive, the means and the opportunity to commit these crimes,” Esquibel said.

The prosecution said Villegas-Hernandez committed the murders after discovering Cynthia Villegas planned to divorce him. Esquibel said evidence presented would show that the day before the shootings, Villegas-Hernandez allegedly made statements to relatives expressing contempt for his wife.

Cynthia Villegas and her daughters were found dead inside the North Davis Street residence, each shot in the head at close range with a .22 caliber rifle or handgun.

Ten .22 caliber shell casings were found in the house. Esquibel said that testimony would later be provided confirming Villegas-Hernandez owned a .22 caliber rifle.

One of the bodies, that of Yamilen Villegas, was found when relatives went to the house at about 11:30 p.m. after Villegas-Hernandez offered inconsistent explanations that day and a day earlier about the whereabouts of Cynthia Villegas and the four girls.

Esquibel said Villegas-Hernandez’s own aunt would testify that earlier in the day, she had gone to the house and was concerned when Villegas-Hernandez acted strange and would not let her in when she asked about Cynthia Villegas and the girls.

Villegas-Hernandez, Esquibel added, later reportedly packed up some personal effects and headed to Mexico in his red pickup truck. Villegas-Hernandez’s own brother, the next day, contacted Mexican authorities due to worries about his brother’s behavior, Esquibel said. After being arrested Villegas-Hernandez was sent back to the United States.

Villegas-Hernandez’s attorney Herman Ortiz conceded the brutality of the crime, calling it horrific and heartbreaking.

“There is no question about that. I feel that way and my client feels that way,” he said.

Ortiz added there are no statements or testimony from anyone about Villegas-Hernandez being seen leaving the house with blood on his clothes or with a firearm and no evidence that his client ever possessed or purchased a gun. He also disputed the contention by the prosecution that Villegas-Hernandez had a motive to kill his family, saying his client had no motive to do so.

Instead, Ortiz said, investigators with the RPD conducted their investigation poorly. “The evidence will show that when they examined the crime scene there were items that were pointing in another direction,” he said.

Ortiz criticized the RPD for waiting until a few months before the trial to try and locate another individual in Mexico who Ortiz said is responsible for the deaths of Cynthia Villegas and the four girls.

Though Ortiz did not give the name of that individual, he said the person had a history of leveling threats against Villegas-Hernandez and his family and was in Mexico.

Villegas-Hernandez, he said, would offer his version of events about what had happened and who he believed was responsible.

Anna Carrasco, a niece of Cynthia Villegas, who was the relative who stumbled upon Yamilen Villegas’ body, was the first witness called by the state to testify.

She said that on the night of June 11, 2016 she and other relatives went to the North Davis Street home. Because both doors were locked and a spare key was not available, she said that she entered the house with the assistance of other relatives through a partially broken window, with the intention of unlocking the front door for them.

She testified that when she entered she soon saw what appeared to be a body and exited through the broken window, severely injuring herself on the shards of broken glass. She then called 911.

Lt. Ray Sharpe, one of the first officers to respond to Carrasco’s 911 call, also testified that he had responded to a call on North Davis Street of an unknown trouble, and a female in the street bleeding.

He said when he arrived, he encountered Carrasco, who was bleeding and “pretty hysterical.” Later after going back to his unit to get some first aid equipment and learning that Carrasco went into another house, he learned of possible bodies in the 2305 North Davis Street residence.

Footage from a body camera worn by Sharp that night was played for the jury, showing his encounter with Carrasco. After learning of the bodies inside the house, one officer entered the home through the partially broken window, unlocked the front door to the house and began going from room to room.

The footage showed the bodies of Cynthia and Yamilen Villegas lying on the floor in separate rooms. All three other victims were found dead from gunshot wounds while lying together in the same bed partially covered by sheets.

Sharpe said he and officers then secured the house for detectives when they came onto the scene.

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