Jul. 29—SANTA FE — Maria Rosita "Brenda" Gallegos spent the last moments of her life covered in blood and trying to help her mortally wounded husband and son. Prosecutors say Gallegos begged her other son, Damian Herrera, not to kill her.
Then, prosecutors say, Herrera loaded a single bullet into the revolver and shot her in the back of the head.
In opening statements Wednesday morning, attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias painted a brutal picture of the events she said unfolded over four hours on June 15, 2017, in the small Rio Arriba County community of La Madera.
Herrera's public defender, meanwhile, instructed the jury to only consider whether the state had met the burden of proof for the 11 charges he is facing. He said prosecutors need to demonstrate that Herrera is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Herrera, now 25, is facing four counts of first-degree murder, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and other charges. He is accused of shooting and killing 49-year-old Gallegos, his stepfather Max Trujillo Sr., 55, and his brother Brendon Herrera, 20.
He is also charged with shooting out a car window, striking 59-year-old Manuel Serrano three times in the back as he filled up his car at a general store and gas station in Abiquiú. Serrano died at the scene.
Police say after he shot his family but before he shot Serrano, Herrera shot and killed 61-year-old Michael Alan Kyte — a stranger who gave him a ride after he ran out of gas in Tres Piedras. Herrera was arrested after he crashed Kyte's car near Abiquiú. The trial in Kyte's death will be held separately, at a later date, in the 8th Judicial District Court in Taos County.
Herrera is being tried for the deaths of Gallegos, Trujillo, Brendon Herrera and Serrano in the 1st Judicial District in Santa Fe. Judge Jason Lidyard is presiding over the trial, which is scheduled to last through Aug. 20.
Family members filled nearly every seat in rooms set up around the courthouse to accommodate social distancing protocols. Many teared up, riveted to the television screens live-streaming the proceedings. Two relatives — an aunt and uncle — attended the trial in support of Herrera.
Herrera's defense attorney, Michael Rosenfield, told the jury there is an "excellent chance" that his client will not testify. He also said he will not call any witnesses.
"These are allegations," Rosenfield said. "You must listen to us as we try to explain whether all this information you're going to hear really does indicate that Mr. Herrera is guilty."
Prosecutor Padgett Macias, however, said the case against Herrera includes eyewitness testimony from his family members, security camera footage and extensive forensic and ballistic evidence.
"This case has it all," she said.
Following opening statements, Herrera's younger sister, Carissa Herrera, testified.
Carissa Herrera, who had just turned 16 at the time of the homicides, choked up listening to her own frantic 911 call and recounting what she saw happen. She said she saw her brother in conversation with her father and then heard four shots ring out.
Then, Carissa Herrera said, she saw her other brother Brendon Herrera run out of the house and try to get the gun while her mother tried to help her father. She said Brendon Herrera was on his knees when he was shot in the back of the head.
"My mom went to Brendon, she picked him up a little bit and was holding him and was asking Damian why he did that and what was wrong with him and to not do it to her," Carissa Herrera said.
"At that point what happened after that?" asked prosecutor Anthony Long.
"Damian shot my mom," Carissa Herrera replied.
In cross-examination, Herrera's defense attorney Todd Farkas questioned his sister about how well she could see through the curtains hanging in the windows and confirmed that she could not remember what her brother was wearing or which hand he was holding the gun in.
Carissa Herrera explained that the curtains did not fully cover the windows.