ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Arguments have begun in one of Albuquerque’s most high-profile murder cases where a woman was shot to death in her own driveway. Facing first degree murder and several other charges, Luis Talamantes-Romero is accused of killing Jacqueline Vigil in a northwest Albuquerque neighborhood in November 2019.

After delivering opening arguments Tuesday morning, the prosecution began calling witnesses in the case. Jurors heard from the victim’s widower, Sam Vigil, and the man who claims he was with Talamantes-Romero when Vigil was killed, Issac Ramirez-Soto.

Luis Talamantes-Romero in an Albuquerque courtroom on April 18, 2023. | Image: KRQE News 13

The trial comes more than three years after Vigil was killed, and more than two years after Talamantes-Romero was charged in New Mexico district court. Prosecutors have accused Talamantes-Romero of shooting and killing Jacqueline Vigil, 55, in the driveway of her westside home on November 19, 2019. The state alleges Talamantes-Romero shot Vigil to death during an attempted robbery as she sat in the front seat of her car, getting ready to leave her house for the gym.

Prosecution’s opening statement

A prosecutor for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, John Duran delivered a roughly 35 minute opening statement to the jury, starting with 911 conversations between a dispatcher and Sam Vigil, who reported the shooting. Played before offering any context about the recording, jurors heard two phone calls Vigil made 911.

“She was driving her car out of the garage, I saw a Jeep … she was going to the gym, she was leaving when I heard the car honking, I went out there, there was a Jeep and it took off, I didn’t know what was going on!” Vigil described in a 911 call. Vigil described seeing a brown Jeep leaving the scene, a bullet hole in the window of his wife’s vehicle, and being unable to get inside the locked vehicle to check on his wife.

“The defendant, Luis Talamantes-Romero, on the early morning of November 19th, 2019, walked up the driveway of Sam and Jacque Vigil,” said Duran, Deputy Attorney General for New Mexico. “He did so with intention to commit harm, a burglary, a theft, he likely saw an opportunity, it was dark, and he murdered Jacque in cold blood.”

Duran argued that Luis Talamantes-Romero was “joyriding, screwing around, and up to no good” in the early morning hours of November 19, 2019, describing Talamantes-Romero as driving around with an alleged accomplice, Isaac Ramirez. Prosecutors say Talamantes-Romero stopped at two other places to allegedly commit crimes before Vigil was killed.

“This is not a matter of what happened, because we can see what happened,” Duran said. “This is a matter of who did it, and not only will you hear from Isaac Ramirez, who’s going to tell you what happened, and Karla Aguirre, and Sam Vigil, but the defendant left a key piece of evidence there as well, a piece of physical evidence that’s going to be very important.”

Prosecutors described finding a shell casing at Vigil’s home and another shell casing outside of the car they believe Talamantes-Romero was driving. Those two shell casings forensically match, according to prosecutors. Jurors are also expected to hear evidence from the state including witnesses who allegedly heard Talamantes-Romero discussing the murder.

Defense’s opening statement

Talamantes-Romero’s defense attorney delivered a far shorter opening statement Tuesday. The defense is expected to criticize the police investigation.

“What you find, and I believe as the law enforcement witnesses are called, you will learn that there are a number of other people who were investigated and interviewed about this crime and about the killing of Jacque Vigil, who admitted to having done this crime, that were later just discarded,” said Kathleen Rhinehart. “The laser focus was on Luis Talamantes.”

Rhinehart said that two detectives who were assigned to the case “early on” investigated a tip related to text messages and other alleged suspects. Rhinehart said, “there are two other individuals who basically made admissions that they were involved with this crime” claiming that evidence was catered to Talamantes-Romero, while other suspects were ignored by the initial detectives.

“We submit that there was various investigations that took place that were never followed through,” Rhinehart said. “There were people that were people that were connected with evidence to this case, potential suspect, that were never followed through.”

Sam Vigil testifies

Kicking off testimony for the prosecution, Sam Vigil took the witnesses stand Tuesday, describing the moments he found his wife lifeless in the front of her car. Vigil described going outside, seeing that his wife was not moving, and seeing a bullet hole through the window. A vehicle was parked behind Jacqueline Vigil’s car and quickly drove away from the scene after her husband emerged from the home.

Sam Vigil described not knowing what initially happened. Entering the 911 call into evidence, Vigil listened to the audio recording of him speaking to the first arriving officers on scene while still on the phone with dispatchers.

“Can we get some help for my wife?!” Vigil can be heard saying in the 911 call, seeing his wife lifeless in the driver’s seat. “Why would somebody do that?”

Under order from the judge, Vigil’s face was not allowed to be recorded on video in the court room. Prosecutors used Vigil’s testimony to help establish to jurors the sighting of a brown Jeep vehicle leaving the crime scene. Vigil also described seeing the shell casing on the floor of his garage, following the shooting.

Accomplice Testifies

Jurors spent the second half of the day hearing testimony from Isaac Ramirez-Soto, who says he was with Talamantes-Romero when Vigil was shot. In 2020, Ramirez took a plea deal in the case, admitting to participating in two thefts before Vigil was shot.

Cameras inside the courtroom were ordered not to record images of Ramirez’s face Tuesday. Ramirez testified for roughly three hours Tuesday, describing meeting the defendant a few months before Vigil was killed.

Before the murder, Ramirez says Talamantes-Romero was driving him around, and asked him to act as a lookout. Ramirez described seeing Talamantes-Romero break into an SUV at the Mesa Ridge Apartments near Ladera and Sequoia, before being confronted by neighbors. Ramirez testified that Talamantes-Rometo asked for a gun during the confrontation.

“He said, ‘get the cuete'” Ramirez testified. “What does that mean?” Duran asked. “Get the gun,” Ramirez responded. He described the gun as a black, 40 caliber pistol. The two then took off from the scene.

Shortly after leaving the Mesa Ride Apartment, Ramirez testified that Talamantes-Romero ran their Jeep into a curb, cracking its rim. The pair eventually stopped at Rio Volcan Apartments, stealing a replacement wheel from a different car, according to Ramirez.

After stealing the replacement wheel, Ramirez says the duo got lost in the Las Lomitas neighborhood near the Vigil’s house, where they discarded the cracked wheel on the roadside. Ramirez says Talamantes-Romero eventually pulled the Jeep into the cul-de-sac, seeing Vigil emerged from her garage.

“He saw that there was a women warming up a car,” Ramirez said. “He tell me that he wanted to rob her, and he wanted me to drive the Jeep, and he was going to take the other car.” Ramirez testified Tuesday that he “refused” to rob Vigil, because he “didn’t know how to drive” and “didn’t want to rob a woman.”

“I don’t think that’s right,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t want to do it.”

Ramirez said he pleaded with Talamantes-Romero not to rob Vigil, but he refused. He said Talamantes-Romero said “don’t tell me what to do.”

“He looked at me, loaded the gun, and put one in the chamber, in my direction, and he said, ‘don’t tell me what to do,'” Ramirez said. “Because I grabbed him, I didn’t want him to get out and rob the lady.”

Ramirez said Talamantes eventually blocked Vigil’s car. He described hearing a horn honk, then a gunshot, then seeing Sam Vigil emerge from his home.

Talamantes-Romero’s defense attorney seized on the plea agreement Ramirez signed. He pleaded guilty to three charges in the case, agreeing to testify in Talamantes-Romero’s prosecution. He faces up to seven years in prison for his role in the case.

“You signed this plea in November 2020?” Rhinehart asked. “So it took you a year to figure out how to do the right thing?”

“It took me a little while, I was young, I was lost and I was scared,” Ramirez said. Rhinehart asked Ramirez if he thought he would “get deported” or that his parent would be deported.

“You didn’t ask for any kind of deal, in order to talk?” Rhinehart asked. “You signed a deal to cooperate with the state in this case, and the benefit to you is hopefully you don’t get deported?”

“Yes ma’am,” Ramirez answered.

How prosecutors built the case

Following Vigil’s killing in November 2019, it wasn’t until August 2020 that the public learned Talamantes-Romero was a suspect in the murder. Court documents filed in U.S. Federal Court revealed he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in January 2020, accused of illegally reentering the United States. Court documents indicate Talamantes-Romero was previously deported from the U.S. in 2006, 2008, and 2019.

Prosecutors believe Talamantes-Romero shot Vigil in the presence of another man, Isaac Ramirez-Soto. A week after the 2019 murder, federal investigators say Talamantes-Romero’s own sister handed over the Jeep that investigators believe was used as the getaway car. Federal court documents indicate that investigators found a bullet casing inside the Jeep matching one collected from Vigil’s murder scene.

Federal court documents also indicate that investigators have a phone call recording between Talamantes-Romero and an inmate at MDC from the day Vigil was murdered. The recording is said to contain Talamantes-Romero saying “what happened was not supposed to happen” in reference to the shooting.

After his 2020 ICE arrest, Talamantes-Romero remained in federal custody in San Antonio, Texas for nearly two years while the immigration case played out. In September, 2021, a federal judge agreed to sentence Talamantes-Romero for his federal case after the murder trial.

In November 2021, Talamantes-Romero was transferred back to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) to face state charges. Since then, he’s been awaiting trial in Vigil’s murder.

Prosecutors with the office of New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez are trying the case in Albuquerque’s 2nd Judicial District Court. More than 20 people associated with the case and the investigation may testify for the state. The trial is expected to last through the rest of the week.

The high-profile nature of the case became a political subject through 2020 and 2021. Then-President Donald Trump highlighted the case in a July 2020 news conference, announcing an increase in federal law enforcement in communities across the U.S., including Albuquerque. In 2021, Jacqueline Vigil’s widower Sam Vigil helped form a political action committee that advertised in the mayor’s race. Vigil also has an ongoing lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque, alleging the city’s “sanctuary policy” is to blame for his wife’s death.