There have been many milestones and celebrations for Tanya Sandoval and her family since March 2, 2019, but they have happened with a keenly felt absence.

Birthdays, holidays, graduations and more have come and gone without the presence of her husband, Daniel Sandoval.

That day, while she and her daughter were at the store, two men shot and killed her husband of less than a year, Daniel Sandoval.

Photo courtesy of Tanya Sandoval
Last week, a Valencia County jury found two men guilty of the 2019 murder of Daniel Sandoval, 26, left. His widow, Tanya Sandoval, right, was nine months pregnant when he was killed.

Jesus Angel Garcia, of Peralta, and Alexandro Motelongo-Murillo, of El Paso, now 35 and 27, respectively, went to the couple’s Meadow Lake home on Prados Place and began shooting at Daniel while he and his brother were working on the house.

The brothers fled in Daniel’s car with the two men pursuing them in a gray SUV. The chase continued through the neighborhood, ending on Meadow Lake Road with Daniel slumped over the steering wheel of the car he was driving.

Jessica Martinez, the spokeswoman for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said Garcia and Motelongo-Murillo sprayed the car Daniel and his brother were in with gunfire, and continued shooting at the brother as he ran from the car.

The two suspects were found later that night, hiding in a ditch in Bosque Farms, Martinez said, but at that time, they hadn’t been connected to the shooting.

They were released and fled to El Paso, Texas, where they were taken into custody at a hotel on March 7.

After nearly five hours of deliberations on Thursday, Nov. 10, a Valencia County jury found Garcia and Motelongo-Murillo guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, Martinez said.

The two men have been in custody since 2019 and will get credit for time served when they are sentenced at a later date. The first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, meaning they will only be eligible for parole after 30 years.

The other two charges carry a maximum of nine years each, which could result in an additional 18 years to their sentences.

Martinez said it will depend on whether 13th Judicial District Court Judge Cindy Mercer orders the sentences run consecutively — one after the other — or concurrently — at the same time.

After the arrest of Garcia and Motelongo-Murillo, trial dates were set three different times. The first two jury trials were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinez said, and a third delay was due to the defense’s request for an expert witness.

“We are happy to get justice for the victim and his family,” Martinez said. “I hope they can have some peace now.”

Whether she wanted it to or not, life didn’t slow down for Tanya after Daniel’s murder.

“I had to be strong for my kids,” Tanya said. “I had to put my life together.”

She especially had to do that for her youngest son — the son who never got to meet his father. Born a little more than a week after the shooting, Daniel — named for his father — will only know him through pictures and stories told by his mother.

“It’s hard because as time goes on, everybody thinks it will get easier but I feel like it gets harder,” she said. “Memories start to fade. Their voices fade. On holidays and birthdays, there are thoughts about what could have been. What Daniel would be doing. How different things would have been if he was here.”

Tanya says her biggest accomplishment was “getting my butt up” and becoming a medical assistant. Her oldest son graduated high school in the spring, and she will be a grandmother soon. All accomplishments and milestones that bring happiness but are still missing someone very special.

She attended every day of the week-long trial that she could, heart racing, blood boiling.

“I didn’t know if they would get away with it. New Mexico laws suck. The scary part was not knowing,” Tanya said.

When the jury delivered its verdict, Tanya said it was like a “big gasp of air. We were finally getting some kind of justice. A lot of other families reached out to me and told me, ‘Thank God you got some kind of justice,’ when they didn’t. We’re blessed we got something.

“I’m very thankful for the jury and most thankful for (ADA) Robyn (Simms) and everyone who helped give my husband a voice. I think (the defendant’s families) thought because (Garcia and Motelongo-Murillo) murdered my husband, he wouldn’t have a voice. That me and my mother-in-law and brother-in-law would give up. We stood there until the end. Come sentencing, they will see my face again. If they are up for parole, they will see my face again.”

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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.