New Mexico State Police on Tuesday charged 31-year-old Mario Valdez of Chamita with first-degree murder and a dozen other counts in a shooting last month at his home that left one man dead and wounded three other people in an SUV.
Weeks after the deadly incident in the tiny community north of Española, Valdez’s whereabouts remain unknown, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Rio Arriba County Magistrate Court.
Prior to the charges filed Tuesday, state police had released little information about the shooting, which occurred just after midnight March 11.
Newly released reports, court records, surveillance video and recordings of interviews with the five surviving victims portray a night of cruising and drinking that led to a drug deal gone awry, prompting Valdez to fire on their Chevrolet Tahoe.
Fernando Martinez, 35, of Española was shot in the back and died in the Tahoe, according to reports and recordings released this week through a public records request.
A tribute to Martinez on the Berardinelli Family Funeral Service website said he had a gentle spirit and was “a light and blessing” to his family and friends.
His sister suffered a gunshot to the head, and her fiancé had minor injuries, reports say, while a man who appeared to be the group’s designated driver was shot in the neck.
Two passengers in the Tahoe — including a woman police say had gone into Valdez’s home before the shooting in search of methamphetamine — were uninjured in the attack.
In addition to the murder charge, Valdez is facing three counts of shooting at a motor vehicle resulting in great bodily harm, three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one count each of tampering with evidence and possession of a firearm by a felon, and two counts of shooting at a motor vehicle with no injury.
State police did not respond to questions about the case Tuesday.
The survivors told state police investigators they had been “cruising around” and drinking whiskey that night, beginning in Española, according to records and recordings. They stopped at a casino before heading to Valdez’s home in Chamita at 89 Rio Arriba County Road 56.
The arrest warrant affidavit says some members of the group told police one woman went into the home to purchase meth while the others waited in the Tahoe.
Inside the house, the affidavit says, a conflict ensued between the woman and an “older bald male” later identified as Mario Valdez’s father, Andrew Valdez, who is a co-owner of the property with his son.
One of the men in the SUV went into the home to get the woman, “knocking the drugs on the floor.”
Andrew Valdez became upset and tried to hit the pair with a chair before pulling a knife on them, they told police. As the man and woman fled to the Tahoe, Andrew Valdez followed them outside and began shouting at them, they said.
Someone fired a shot into the back window of the vehicle.
The survivors told police they believe two people then began firing at them.
At least 15 shots could be heard in surveillance video of the incident police obtained from a home nearby.
Police found 15 rifle casings around the property — scattered as if “the shooter was moving around,” a report states. All four sides of the Tahoe were littered with bullet holes.
“They wanted to kill us all,” one man told officers in an interview.
They tried pleading with the shooters, the man said, and even told the Valdezes one of the women in their vehicle was pregnant. But the shooting continued.
An ignition interlock device initially prevented the driver from getting the vehicle started, the group told police, and when it finally did start, the driver frantically tried to drive in reverse off the property, striking a gate that had closed behind them.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, most of the group fled from the Tahoe. One man said he was able to escape after breaking a passenger window.
As they ran for help, the survivors said, they were followed by two cars. They said the older man threatened them from one of the vehicles, asking, “Do you want some more?”
Fernando Martinez’s sister told police that before before he died, her brother pulled her from the back seat to protect her. And after she was struck in the head by a bullet, the driver, who also was wounded, dragged her from the vehicle to save her, a report states.
The victims said help they received that night from neighbors in the community deterred any further attack.
Surveillance video shows the shooting began at 12:07 a.m. March 11 and captures two cars driving down the road at 12:13 a.m. State police believe that’s when Mario Valdez and Andrew Valdez fled the scene.
When officers arrived, they found “a female screaming with a visible gunshot wound to her head” and three men on the ground who said they had been shot, according to a search warrant affidavit. There was “a trail of blood” from the Tahoe to where the four survivors were hiding.
Meanwhile, six people remained barricaded inside the Valdezes’ home for hours.
They finally emerged around 7 a.m., reports say. None claimed to know what had happened outside.
During a search of the property, police found an empty rifle box, a couple of rifle magazines, a 9 mm bullet, body armor and empty handgun holsters, according to reports. They didn’t find any firearms.
Court records show Mario Valdez has faced several criminal charges dating back to 2010, including extortion, larceny, armed robbery, burglary of a vehicle, aggravated assault and possession of drugs. He was charged most recently in January for possession of heroin and buprenorphine.