The New Mexico Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a Meadow Lake woman sentenced to 21 years in prison in connection to the death of a 12-year-old boy in 2014.
In February 2017, Loretta Villalobos was sentenced on three charges — one count of negligent child abuse resulting in death, a first-degree felony; and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor — receiving 18 years for the first charge and 18 months each for the other charges.
Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said Villalobos will go before a judge to be resentenced to the two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
“I believe she’s been in (prison) enough to satisfy the amount (of time) for those two counts and will be released back into the community,” Martinez said.
The district attorney said it was a tough case.
“We brought charges because we thought she was reckless in terms of knowing her son and his proclivities, and by allowing them to leave the house without supervision,” he said. “We thought there was substantial risk of harm to the victim.”
Three years before Villalobos was convicted and sentenced, 12-year-old Alex Madrid was found bludgeoned to death beneath a discarded mattress in a Meadow Lake field.
Villalobos’ son, Brandon, now 20, is charged with the crime but has not been tried. Martinez said his office was waiting on a decision from the court of appeals in regards to the case against Brandon Villalobos.
The matter before the court of appeals is whether Brandon Villalobos’ statements to law enforcement officers were made “knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently,” due to his diminished mental abilities.
“The defense is attacking the statements he gave police, saying all or part should be excluded,” Martinez said. “When we get (a decision) back, I imagine a trial will be set.”
According to court documents, the two boys had been arguing and Brandon stated “Alex attempted to stab him with a yellow-handled screwdriver and Brandon defended himself, striking Alex on the left side of his face near his eye.”
After Madrid fell, according to an affidavit, Brandon covered him with the mattress.
At the 2017 sentencing of Loretta Villalobos, the prosecutor told the judge when Brandon returned home, saying the two had been jumped by guys with guns, the mother failed to call the police or look for Madrid.
In the appeal, Villalobos challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the three convictions.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals agreed there was insufficient evidence in regards to the child abuse charge and overturned Villalobos’ conviction, but affirmed the two CDM convictions.
The night Madrid was killed, the boys told Loretta they were going out to an abandoned home nearby with plans to vandalize the house.
The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Madrid, Dr. Lori Proe, testified Madrid suffered from numerous internal and external injuries, including bleeding in the scalp, the skull and around the brain, as well as multiple skull fractures.
Proe told the jury she could not determine if any single injury was instantly fatal.
“Although it was possible medical intervention could have saved (Madrid), Dr. Proe was unable to determine how long (Madrid) lived after he sustained the injuries,” the court’s opinion reads.
Proe testified Madrid could have survived a few minutes or several hours, ultimately concluding the matter of the boy’s death was homicide.
In it’s opinion, the court of appeals wrote that for Villalobos to be criminally liable for child abuse by endangerment, she must have been aware of a particular danger to Madrid when engaging in the conduct that created the risk of harm.
While the state presented evidence that Brandon had a history of vandalism, truancy and would become angry and yell during Loretta Villalobos’ trial, there was never any evidence presented that showed Brandon had violent tendencies towards Madrid.
“Indeed, the state presented no evidence that (Loretta Villalobos) knew Brandon had violent proclivities and placed (Madrid) in danger when she allowed the two to leave unsupervised,” the opinion reads.
She told a detective with the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office that Brandon was “fine with other people,” according to the opinion, and not violent towards his family members.
“The evidence the state presented at trial fails to establish that there was a foreseeable risk to (Madrid) when he left (Loretta Villalobos’) home with Brandon, his long-time neighborhood friend,” the judge wrote.
At trial, the prosecution argued that Loretta Villalobos caused Madrid’s death because she failed to help him, contending that if she had immediately taken steps to locate Madrid, he might have received medical care that would have prevented his death.
Even though Loretta Villalobos failed to verify Madrid was safe, to find him, contact his family or call the police after Brandon told her they had been attacked by three men, in order to convict her, the state had to prove her failure to act caused Madrid’s death.
“While (Loretta Villalobos’) behavior might be described as irresponsible, the nexus between (her) conduct and (Madrid’s) death is lacking,” the order reads.
During the trial, Proe didn’t estimate a time between the blunt trauma suffered by Madrid and his death, and could not state whether the death happened within minutes or hours.
“… the jury was left to speculate that if (Loretta Villalobos) had more reasonably responded to Brandon’s report of being attacked, then (Madrid) could have be located prior to his death and doctors would have had the time and ability to treat him successfully,” the opinion reads.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.