The Los Lunas man charged with murdering a Belen veteran in 2019 has been sentenced to more than three decades in prison.
Francisco Gomez, 39, pleaded guilty to and was sentenced on numerous charges — including second-degree murder — in relation to the shooting death of Matthew Gurule, 32, a Belen Marine veteran, before 13th Judicial District Court Judge James Lawrence Sanchez on Thursday, Sept. 9.
Gomez was sentenced to 40 years, with eight years suspended, for a total of 32 years in prison.
Gurule’s younger sister, Rheanna Gurule, said she was grateful Gomez was “able to admit he did wrong, instead of sitting through a trial and fighting, saying he didn’t do it and possibly getting away with murder.”
“I’m at peace with it. I’m glad we got the opportunity to speak today so Gomez could hear how we were affected. The day I lost Matthew, I lost my mother, too. She never came back from it.”
Gomez pleaded to second-degree murder and armed robbery, second-degree felonies; arson and tampering with evidence, third-degree felonies; fraudulent receipt of a credit card and a second count of tampering with evidence, both fourth-degree felonies, and one count of fraudulent use of an illegally obtained credit card, a misdemeanor.
Included in Gomez’ plea were charges from a 2018 case, when he was accused of shooting a man several times in the legs and buttocks at a home on La Entrada Road on Dec. 3, 2018.
The man survived, and a .22 caliber handgun allegedly belonging to Gomez was found at the scene.
Gomez pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated assault and shooting at or from a motor vehicle, all fourth-degree felonies.
Rheanna called Matthew selfless, and said he always worried about everybody else.
“He embraced anybody and everybody he met,” Rheanna said.
Gurule was last seen at Isleta Casino on July 27, 2019. He called his mother, Sandra Miller, who lives in Texas, at about 12:30 a.m., saying he was being asked to leave the casino. That was the last time anyone heard from him.
The family and Gurule’s fellow Marines searched the desert for 21 days; his young niece wanted to go out and help, Rheanna said.
“She felt in her heart, she could find him herself,” she said. “The day I lost my brother, I also lost my mom. I know she loves me but he was her world.”
Miller was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in early 2019 and doctors say due to the trauma and stress of her son’s murder, her condition has advanced rapidly, her daughter said.
“My mom suffers from PTSD. She calls the police because she smells gas and is afraid someone is going to set fire to where ever she is,” Rheanna told the judge. “Not only did Francisco murder my brother that day but he took my mom from me, too. He took every sense of normalness I knew. The man who committed such a hateful crime shouldn’t be set free after just 32 years while we have to spend the rest of our lives trying to fill an impossible void.”
Gurule’s body was found in an irrigation ditch west of N.M. 304, south of Rio Communities on Aug. 16.
Gurule and his siblings grew up in the Belen and Albuquerque area, but moved to Texas when he was in elementary school. He returned to the area a few months before his death after inheriting a piece of property in Jarales from his father.
Gurule’s stepsister, Amanda Bratten, said she and Rheanna learned about the plea and sentencing only the day before it happened.
“We both felt, no matter what, we wanted to make our victim impact statements in person,” Bratten said. “The only thing that is going to help is time and, even then, time will never really be enough. (Gomez) didn’t just take one person’s life, he took two. Sandra is not Sandra anymore.”
During the sentencing, Bratten read a statement from retired U.S. Marine Cpl. David Mays, who served with Matthew in Afghanistan.
“…We have been a part of keeping the terrorists at bay for the past 20 years in Afghanistan. And for what? For (Matthew) to be sitting in his car, alone, listening to some music and trying to unwind,” Mays’ statement read in part. “… Then a worthless, no good, doesn’t-deserve-to-be-breathing person robs him, kills him, used his own car to transport his body and dump him in a ditch. What a shame.
“A man that fought for (Gomez’) freedom, for his way of life. Matt served his time in Hell and now he guards the streets of gold because of a senseless act.”
On Friday, Sept. 3, Gomez’s girlfriend, Jeannine Willard, 47, of Adelino pleaded guilty to seven counts for her involvement in the death of Gurule. Willard has not been sentenced at this time and is being held at the Valencia County Detention Center awaiting sentencing.
According to the plea and disposition agreement filed with the court, there is an initial sentencing agreement to cap Willard’s incarceration at 18 years and for the state to not impose additional time due to her status as a habitual offender.
Willard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, a second-degree felony; tampering with evidence and arson, both third-degree felonies; and two counts of conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit arson, and possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon in 2017, all fourth-degree felonies.
During the investigation, Willard told law enforcement officers Gomez picked her up on his motorcycle at the Love’s Travel Center in Belen. The couple rode west on Camino del Llano, where Gomez noticed a car parked on a small dirt pull-out near the water tank at the top of the mesa, which was Gurule in his Honda Accord.
They rode past the car, then Gomez stopped and let Willard get off, telling her he was going to go back to rob the person in the car.
Willard said she heard Gomez telling Gurule he was being robbed, so “he better start running.”
“When he did not, Francisco shot Matthew multiple times, killing him,” the complaint reads.
Gomez put Gurule’s body in the trunk of the car and the couple drove to a drainage ditch south of Rio Communities, where they discarded Gurule’s body.
The two cleaned the interior of the car, took some of Gurule’s possessions, then took it to an area off Manzano Expressway, where they set the car on fire.
According to the criminal complaint, Gurule and Gomez had no known ties, other than meeting on the night Gurule was killed.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Martinez said Willard’s plea was based on her full cooperation and truthful testimony against Gomez.
“Once she took the plea and entered into an agreement, things moved quickly and dominoed into Francisco (Gomez) pleading,” Martinez said. “Pleas are always hard. We have to look at the effect it is going to have on victims and the family. We have to look at the evidence and the credibility of witnesses. You put all that together and determine what is a reasonable plea.
“The good thing with a plea is you have a guaranteed outcome, but with a trial, you never know. In this case, we have an outcome and I just hope the family can begin to heal.”
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.