It’s been three years of not knowing for a Valencia County family, as they waited for Rita Jaramillo to come home.

Last week, the Albuquerque man charged with Jaramillo’s murder led New Mexico State Police agents to her remains.

Arthur Lovato, 61, led them to an area near Interstate 25 and U.S. 60 in Socorro County, on Tuesday, Oct. 26, where they located Jaramillo, 49, of El Cerro, wrote NMSP spokesman Officer Ray Wilson via an email on Monday.

Rita Jaramillo
Remains found after missing for three years

“Ms. Jaramillo’s body was positively identified by the Office of the Medical Investigator on Oct. 27,” Wilson wrote in the same email.

Lovato agreed to take law enforcement officers to the location of Jaramillo’s body in exchange for a plea agreement. On Oct. 26, Lovato entered a guilty plea to a voluntary manslaughter charge.

The plea agreement calls for a sentence of six years, with Lovato receiving credit for the time he’s been in custody at the Valencia County Detention Center since May 2019.

The remainder of the sentence is to be suspended, and Lovato won’t serve any probationary time, according to the plea agreement, so long as he led officers to the location of Jaramillo and the remains were positively identified as her.

A sentencing hearing for Lovato, where Jaramillo’s family members and friends will be allowed to speak, has not been scheduled.

Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Barbara Romo said the case prosecutors had against Lovato would have been very difficult to prove without a body.

“Also, our key witness, Kevin Rangel, had serious credibility issues,” Romo said. “We had a hard time getting cooperation from the feds to even get him back.”

Rangel was arrested on a federal firearms charge in early June. The gun in question was a .44 caliber revolver, allegedly given to him by Lovato. According to court records, Rangel said Lovato showed up at a home he was staying at in Albuquerque, driving Jaramillo’s car.

Rangel claimed he could see a partially-covered woman’s body inside, on the seat, and that Lovato confessed to shooting and killing (Jaramillo), according to an Albuquerque Journal article published on June 19.

Rangel told NMSP agents Lovato gave him the gun and told him to destroy it, but Rangel kept it for insurance, “in case something ever came back on him.”

Romo said there was also an outstanding suppression motion filed by Lovato’s attorney to keep evidence found on his client’s property during an illegal search out of court.

“There was a search of the property without a warrant. The motion is still pending and there is a very good chance we would have lost,” the DA said. “We were left with the choice of going to trial and risk getting nothing.

“Frankly, if we had gotten a conviction, there would have been no obligation (for him) to disclose the location of Rita.

“It was communicated to us by his lawyer we were never going to find her if we went to trial, and that’s probably true. Where she was buried … there’s no way she would have been found.”

Arthur Lovato
Pleads guilty

Romo said her office wanted to at least give Jaramillo’s family closure and find her.

“Sometimes you have to make a deal with the Devil to get something for the family,” Romo said. “This is not the resolution we hoped for when the case began.”

Jaramillo’s daughter, Leslie Romero, last spoke with her mother on Sept. 20, 2018, but became concerned for her safety just days later when Jaramillo’s home at 6 San Luis Rey Place in El Cerro burned down.

Valencia County Fire Marshal Casey Davis said the fire started in the bedroom in the south end of the home and while he couldn’t report the cause of the fire at that time, did call it “highly suspicious.”

Romero said she and family members were allowed into the house after the fire, and they found two tires, which reportedly can be used as an accelerant and to make a fire burn hotter and longer.

In June 2019, Lovato was indicted on five charges — first-degree murder (depraved mind), first-degree murder (willful and deliberate), second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence — and entered a plea of not guilty.

After his plea was heard, the judge ordered Lovato held at VCDC without bond.

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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.