ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The prosecution says it has nearly wrapped the presentation of its case in the trial of Luis Talamantes-Romero over the 2019 Jacqueline Vigil killing. Talamantes is accused of shooting Vigil to death in the driveway of her northwest Albuquerque neighborhood.
Following testimony about Vigil’s autopsy Friday, defense attorneys also finished questioning the lead case agent who oversaw the murder investigation. Proceedings ended just before noon with Judge Britt Baca-Miller reserving a critical decision for Monday.
The judge is weighing the admission of several jail house phone calls made between Talamantes and friends, and other calls made between Talamantes’ friends and family.
Prosecutors argue the calls contain several statements surrounding the alleged cover-up of the murder case and statements made by Talamantes in reaction to the case. Talamantes’ defense has questioned the relevance of several of the calls, noting that the defendant isn’t included in some of the conversations which all took place shortly after Vigil was killed.
Talamantes is accused of shooting and killing Vigil, 55, in the early morning hours of November 19, 2019. Vigil was in the driver’s seat of her car, backing out of her driveway when she was shot in the head.
The prosecution has so far argued that physical evidence, victim statements and testimony from alleged co-conspirators all link Talamantes to the murder. The defense argues that the investigation was “laser focused” on charging Luis Talamantes, and that some witnesses statements about other alleged suspects in the case were ignored.
Defense questions APD’s investigative missteps
Returning to the witness stand, Kyle Hartsock faced cross examination from Talmantes’ defense Friday, which highlighted missteps in Albuquerque Police’s initial investigation. Hartsock, who then worked for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, took over the Vigil murder investigation from APD in the summer of 2020.
Before taking over the case, Hartsock became involved in the investigation by processing cell phone records and digital evidence tied to the investigation. Around March 2020, Hartsock reviewed the phone records of a suspect APD initially alleged was with Talamantes the morning of Vigil’s murder.
Despite tells detectives he was present when Vigil was shot, the alleged accomplice named Z.B., was never charged in the case. In direct examination Thursday, Hartsock described concern about a two-hour interview APD detectives did with Z.B., suggesting that the interview tactics used by detectives lead to a false confession.
In cross-examination, Talamantes’ attorney Kathleen Rhinehart focused on APD’s interview of Z.B. Hartsock told Rhinehart that after the initial interview with Z.B., the two initial APD detectives “felt the investigation was more or less over.”
“When I evaluated Z.B.’s phone and phone records, and I listened to his interview, I was are that the investigation believed he was the passenger in the car, and I disagreed with that assessment,” Hartsock said. “In speaking with the homicide detectives, they, to me, felt like the investigation was more or less over, they’d figured it out, it was Z.B. and Mr. Talamantes.”
Hartsock described feeling there was “more to explore” in the case, including alternate theories as to who investigators say was with Talamantes on the morning of the shooting. He also described reservations with an interview APD detectives conducted with Z.B.
“I listened to [the interview with Z.B.], I had concerns about its validity,” Hartsock said. Describing a portion of the interview, Rhinehart asked “There were basically threats that [Z.B.] could face the death penalty?” Hartstock responded, “[The APD detectives] implied that he could be executed by the government for his participation in this crime.”
Taking over the investigation for APD in the summer of 2020, Hartsock described an eventual conclusion that Z.B. was likely not involved in the Vigil murder case. That decision Hartsock said was based on physical evidence and statements Z.B. made in the problematic APD interview.
“Did you make that determination, in part, because [Z.B.] didn’t have details that would be [indicative] of having knowledge of having been there?” Rhinehart asked.
“Yes, that’s correct, [Z.B.] didn’t offer any original information in the interview, he simply just agreed with the detectives for the most part,” Hartsock said. “Which is a warning flag to someone who’s watched lots of interviews, they teach interviews to cops, that’s a red flag.”
After reconsidering their suspicions of Z.B. as a potential accomplice, investigators eventually found Isaac Ramirez. Ramirez testified Monday that he was riding in the car with Talamantes on the morning of Vigil’s murder. Investigators found Ramirez after reading Talamantes’ Facebook Messenger conversations. Thursday, Hartsock described Ramirez’s confession “incredibly consistent” with the evidence police had in the case, including evidence that police never told Ramirez about.
Prosecutors also noted that Hartsock was not a part of the APD interview with Z.B.
Medical examiner testifies, state moves to play jail calls
Jurors also heard testimony Friday from Dr. Heather Jarrell, the Chief Medical Examiner at the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. Dr. Jarrell helped perform the autopsy on Jacqueline Vigil.
Medical examiners determined that Vigil’s cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head. Vigil was killed “instantaneously” according to Dr. Jarrell. Talamantes’ defense declined to cross examine Dr. Jarrell.
Wrapping up Friday’s proceedings, prosecutors played several recordings of jail phone calls for Judge Britt Baca-Miller, seeking approval to play the phone calls for the jury. Some of the calls take place between Talamantes and a man in custody at MDC. Other calls take place between the MDC inmate and relatives of Talamantes.
Prosecutors described the calls as containing statements about or relating to maintaining the Jeep, fleeing from New Mexico, getting rid of evidence in the case, and Talamantes’ alleged role in the actual shooting. The defense in part argued that many of the calls are either irrelevant, and that some do not contain conversation with Talamantes himself.
Judge Baca-Miller reserved judgement on the admission of much of the evidence. She is expected to make a ruling on all of the calls Monday, when the state could potentially wrap its case.
Trial resumes Monday
Arguments are slated to resume in front of jurors on Monday afternoon around 1:30 p.m. The trial is currently scheduled to last through next Tuesday, April 25.
After a full day of jury selection Monday, testimony opened on Tuesday with jurors hearing opening statements and testimony from widower Sam Vigil and Isaac Ramirez. On Wednesday, jurors heard about Talamantes relocation to San Antonio after Vigil’s murder, as well as testimony from several police officers and victims of burglaries Talamantes is alleged to have committed.
On Thursday, jurors heard from a several more police experts, including the eventual case agent, Kyle Hartsock. Hartsock took over the investigation in the summer of 2020.
John Duran and Greer Staley are leading the prosecution in the case for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. Kathleen Rhinehart is representing Talamantes as a defense attorney.