Man who killed woman at Taos gas station sentenced to life in prison

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 5/23/19

A Taos District Court judge on Tuesday (May 21) sentenced Brandon Lopez to life in prison for the murder of 23-year-old Destiny Valdez, a Ranchos de Taos woman who Lopez fatally shot at the Shell gas …

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Man who killed woman at Taos gas station sentenced to life in prison

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A Taos District Court judge on Tuesday (May 21) sentenced Brandon Lopez to life in prison, plus eight years, for the 2017 murder of Destiny Valdez, a 23-year-old Ranchos de Taos woman who Lopez fatally shot outside a gas station in Taos.

A jury found Lopez guilty of first-degree murder and four other counts in May 2018 after a two-day trial and more than a day deliberating the case.

Two of Valdez's family members spoke at Tuesday's sentencing hearing. They told the court about the pain caused by losing Valdez, who is also survived by a young son.

Marcus Montoya, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office, asked Taos District Court Judge Emilio Chavez to impose the maximum sentence.

For the murder conviction, Chavez ordered life imprisonment, the most severe punishment available in New Mexico since the state abolished the death penalty in 2009. The judge also ordered an additional eight years for two counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated assault Lopez was convicted of at trial.

Among the evidence presented by the state was surveillance footage that captured the fatal shooting, which took place the night of Feb. 3, 2017 outside the Shell gas station located on Paseo del Cañon East in Taos.

The video, which was played repeatedly during the trial, shows Lopez arriving at the gas pumps in a gray sedan and later getting into an altercation with two men in a vehicle that was also occupied by Valdez and two other teenagers, who were riding in the backseat.

Several seconds after the exchange, Lopez can be seen returning to his sedan at the gas pumps. He then extends his arm and fires several rounds from a handgun at the rear of the vehicle. One of the bullets struck Valdez in the head.

The teens drove her to Holy Cross Hospital less than two miles away from the station. From there, Valdez was flown in a helicopter to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she was placed on life support but died of the gunshot wound four days later.

Investigators with Taos Police Department recovered several other pieces of evidence, including the handgun used in the shooting – found in Lopez's vehicle after his arrest – spent shell casings from around the gas pumps and bullet holes found in the victim's vehicle and the wall of the station's mini mart.

During trial, Lopez's defense attorney noted that Lopez said one of the men in the victim's vehicle had hit him and threatened to kill him during their brief exchange. Lopez's mother also testified at trial that her son suffered from an unspecified mental disorder, which she described as a "diminished capacity."

Ultimately, the jurors returned with a unanimous verdict, finding Lopez guilty of first-degree murder.

The Taos District Attorney's Office commented on the sentence Thursday (May 23).

"While no amount of time in custody can replace the loss of the beloved daughter, the loving mother, and this cherished young community member, hopefully this sentence provides some closure for the family, and hopefully the incarceration enhances the safety of the community," reads a statement from the office.

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