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Suspect faces more prison time

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By Don Pace

A man accused of killing another in a road-rage shooting faces another charge, which could mean more years in prison if he’s convicted.

Richard Baca, 21, was facing a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the November killing of Benito Lemos, 22, in central Las Vegas. That charge carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Now, he faces a charge of shooting from a motor vehicle, which has a maximum of 15 years.

After hearing about three hours of testimony, Magistrate Judge James Moncayo said he found enough evidence to send the case to trial in state District Court.

No one, including Baca, disputes that he gunned down Lemos. On an audio recording, Baca can be heard calmly telling detectives after the shooting that he shot Lemos three times as he was being pummeled by the larger man.

“At 12th and National, a passenger got out of the passenger side. I had my weaponry on my left side. The guy came up to my window, I looked at him and he said, ‘Do you have a (expletive)  problem? You almost hit us.’ He then began assaulting me inside my vehicle hitting me in the head and face. I pulled my gun out, and I told him I have a gun, but I didn’t have a round chambered at the time. I chambered a round, and he continued hitting me, so I popped three rounds out, and saw his body go to the ground,” Baca told police.

Baca said he then re-holstered his weapon and got out of his car. He said he then went to the trunk of his car to get his first-aid kit and tried to begin first aid.

In the recording, Baca said, “His wife (fiancée Germaine Lovato) got out of the car and started screaming at me. She said, ‘What happened to my husband?’ I told her I shot your husband for assaulting me in my vehicle. I then got on the phone and dialed 911.” 

Baca said Lemos punched him about seven times. However, another witness, April Robin Salazar, told investigators she saw Lemos strike Baca two or three times.       

Prosecutor Tom Clayton called seven witnesses to the stand, including Lovato, who testified Lemos was never angry.

“He was just going to tell him to slow down after he ran us off the road,” Lovato said.

She said Lemos was gesturing with his arms, but did not strike Baca.

• • •

Witnesses and registered nurse Beverly Morcael, who owns the bakery and cafe across from where the shooting took place, was asked about her part in administering first aid. Highlands University student Anna Fredlund said she was passing the Kiva theater when she heard three shots and called 911. She said she also carries a first-aid kit and tried to assist the victim. Both women said Baca seemed calm after the shooting.

Lovato, who was driving the car, became emotional as she recalled seeing her fiance being shot and watching him fall to the ground.

“I saw Benito fall backward, and I yelled at him as he turned to look at me. He then fell over and started shaking,” Lovato said.

Lovato said as she was going to her fiance’s side, Baca got out of his car. He still had his gun out and pointed it at her, she testified.

“I told him, ‘You just (expletive) shot him.’ He said, ‘Yes I did.’ That’s when he put his gun back in his holster. I said, ‘Why would you shoot him? All he was telling you was to slow down.’ He said, ‘It was your fault. You ran the red light (at Mills and Seventh). I said, ‘I didn’t run a red light,’ and he said, ‘It’s your fault. You should have kept him in the car,’” Lovato said from the witness stand.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Buckels wondered why Lovato was following Baca up Bridge Street and around the Plaza.

Lovato said she wasn’t following Baca. It just happened that she was behind his car as he continued to drive recklessly, she said.

Buckels said Lovato had several options: She could have taken a right on National toward the church and the courthouse to steer clear of Baca, she could have called 911, or she could have pulled into the police station on the Plaza.

“What did you have in mind when you continued following Mr. Baca?” Buckels asked.

“We were behind him. We weren’t following him. We were just going for a ride and ended up behind him,” Lovato answered.

“What did you have in mind when Benito stepped out of the car?” Buckels pressed.

“I just thought he was going to tell him (Baca) to slow down. He wasn’t mad,” Lovato said.

Judge Moncayo asked Buckels if he had any defense witnesses.

“Yes, but not today,” Buckels answered.

• • •

In his closing arguments, Clayton told the court the killing was a deliberate act. He also argued Baca had options and could have driven away if he felt he was in danger.

“He had options, a slew of options, which he acknowledged,” Clayton said.

Clayton read testimony where Baca said he could have sped away, but thought he would be chased.

“So his response was, boom, boom, boom. He had options, but he chose the most lethal option of them all” Clayton said.   

Clayton said society has laws and civility.

“I agree punching someone is not civil, but it doesn’t equate to pulling out a 9mm Glock and putting three (bullets) in his chest,” Clayton said.

• • •

In his closing remarks, Buckels said it’s hard to be reasonable when getting beaten up. He said the prosecution knows that it’s dealing with a “patent provocation” case.

“In New Mexico, self-defense is a complete defense,” he said.

According to police reports, Baca had seen Lemos’ car near Seventh Street and Mills Avenue, and then again at National Avenue and 12th Street in the early evening of Nov. 9. At that intersection, Lemos, a local postal carrier, allegedly got out of his car, walked toward Baca’s car and and started punching him.

When Lemos wouldn’t stop, Baca fired his gun and killed Lemos, reports state.