Copyright © 2021, Valencia County News-Bulletin
LOS LUNAS — “He will forever be my 12-year-old Alex.”
Through tears Roxanne Madrid spoke about and remembered her son, Alex Madrid, who was brutally slain in an empty lot in Meadow Lake a little more than seven years ago. He was a bright, shining star, she said, liked by young and old alike.
“His baby sister, Janessa, has faint memories of her older brother. We all remain devastated,” Roxanne said. “Family pictures will never be complete.”
On Wednesday morning, Roxanne and those who loved Alex gathered in a district courtroom in Los Lunas and told 13th Judicial District Judge James Lawrence Sanchez they wanted his killer sentenced to the maximum time allowed.
The defendant, Brandon Villalobos, 22, sat quietly wearing an orange jumpsuit, separated from his defense attorney, Mark Earnest, by a Plexiglas barrier.
In February 2020, a jury found Villalobos guilty of second-degree murder in the 2014 beating death of Alex, and guilty of tampering with evidence.
Sanchez sentenced Villalobos to 15 years in prison for the second-degree conviction, and three years for the tampering with evidence conviction, with the sentences to run consecutively, for a total of 18 years. The total time Villalobos will serve will be reduced by the 2,628 days — 7.2 years — he has already served before being sentenced.
On the night of Feb. 16, 2014, Madrid and Villalobos, who was 15 years old at the time, left the Villalobos home at 11 De Colores in Meadow Lake to go for a walk. According to statements by Villalobos, the two were heading to an abandoned mobile home near the Meadow Lake Community Center to vandalize it.
Villalobos initially told detectives while the two were at the mobile home, three men jumped them, one of whom had a gun. Villalobos said he struck one of the men twice with a crowbar he was carrying and the two boys ran. Villalobos said he looked back but didn’t see his friend.
When he returned home that night, Villalobos told his mother, Loretta, what had allegedly occurred. That story was repeated to Madrid’s aunt the next morning when she came looking for him, and to deputies from the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office when they responded to her call for a missing child.
Villalobos went with deputies to the abandoned mobile home, but they found no signs of a scuffle as described by him. When they confronted him, Villalobos led them to Madrid’s body, which was hidden beneath a discarded box spring in an empty field less than half a mile south of his home.
Roxanne Madrid told the judge Wednesday she remembers the day her son went missing, waiting in agony as deputies searched the area, giving them a picture of Alex, then finally, the discovery of his body.
She also remembers Villalobos standing in front of her car that day, laughing and smiling.
“Brandon showed no remorse. Not only did he murder my son, he left him to die, in the cold, alone under a mattress,” Roxanne said. “No words can describe the agony.”
She asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence for the “maximum devastation” her family has experienced.
Barely able to peek over the podium, Alex’s younger sister, Janessa Barela, spoke in a timid voice to the judge.
“He always cared for me,” Janessa said, crying and wearing a black ribbon in her hair which read “RIP Alex.” “I wish he was here, all grown up and could take care of me. He always loved me and I always loved him. He was my favorite brother.”
If he were here, Alex would be 19 years old, 13th Judicial District Attorney Barbara Romo told Judge Sanchez on Wednesday, maybe starting college and a life of his own.
“For some things in life, you have to pay the maximum consequences. There is no joy here today. I hope … when (Villalobos) gets out, he gets help. Everyone in this room would agree he needs help,” Romo said. “He has anger management problems, a long history of defiant disorder.”
Romo asked for the maximum of 15 years in prison for the second-degree murder count and three years for tampering with evidence, and that they be served consecutively.
Earnest argued state statute allows the judge to impose a lesser sentence since Villalobos was a juvenile at the time of the murder and considered a youthful offender.
In regards to the tampering charge, Earnest said it wasn’t meant as an extension of the punishment for the murder itself. He pointed out the detectives who investigated the murder testified they wouldn’t have found Alex’s body without Villalobos’ help.
“I know they were trying to convey that Brandon knew where the body was but this is a separate crime with the intent to avoid detection and conviction,” Earnest said. “I have tried to look at this through his eyes, with his disabilities, and this was a feeble attempt at hiding something.”
Villalobos’ history of intellectual disability was well documented during his trial and throughout the case. He has intellectual abilities below an IQ of 70.
The defense attorney said he has seen remorse from his client, more than many of his clients have expressed. He read a statement to the court from Villalobos.
“I want everyone in the courtroom to know I have spent countless hours thinking about that terrible day when I took a life … my friend,” Earnest read. “I have nightmares … I know I should have done something else. I had no right to take anybody’s life. I can’t describe the sorrow I feel about what I did, every hour of every day.
“I know it’s a lot to ask but if you could consider a thought of forgiveness. I want to be given the chance to make something of myself. Please forgive me.”
Villalobos’ side of the courtroom was empty; only his two defense attorneys were with him when the judge handed down the sentence.
Sanchez said when he looked at the crime of the murder, he didn’t see any mitigating circumstances. In regards to the tampering with evidence, the charge included more than hiding Alex’s body.
“It included washing clothes, washing the instrument — the crowbar — leading (law enforcement) to the wrong place (initially),” Sanchez said. “There was great effort and he had great help to try to avoid the consequences.”
Greg Gaudette, Villalobos’ second defense attorney, said they will file an appeal.
“We believe there were substantial errors made,” said Gaudette, a Los Lunas attorney. “Mark was right; Brandon has been very remorseful to us. We’ve seen the tears. We also recognize the hurt and loss experienced by Alex’s family.”
Now that the criminal case has run its course, Romo hopes Alex’s family can experience some healing and move forward with their lives.
“This case, for a lot of reasons, has taken a very long time,” the district attorney said. “It makes it very difficult for the family to feel any kind of resolution, but hopefully they have that now. I hope they can remember Alex as he was and not dwell on these court proceedings.”
Romo said she’s also hopeful Villalobos can move forward now that he is able to serve his sentence after years of waiting.
“He’s still a young man. He can still turn his life around,” she said. “Ultimately, though, there are no winners here.”
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.