ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico man told police, again and again, he feared for his life. After those warning signs, he was found shot to death in his home. Now, more than three-and-a-half years later, the accused killer finally faced a trial. Gabriel Sanchez was found not guilty on Thursday for the 2017 murder of William Jimerson. However, some of what the victim’s family calls crucial evidence leading up to the murder wasn’t even discussed at trial.
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“We all expected this verdict,” John Jimerson, the victim’s brother told KRQE News 13 shortly after the ‘not guilty’ verdict was read in a Rio Arriba County courtroom. “It’s like going to a race and then when you get there they tie your legs together.”
Sanchez was arrested and charged with murder in December of 2017. The jury deliberated for about six hours on Thursday before reading the verdict. “This happened as a result of an execution,” said a state prosecutor during opening statements last week in the murder trial against Gabriel Sanchez. “Gabriel Sanchez was not the killer,” the defense attorney argued in opening statements.
KRQE News 13 spoke with Jimerson’s family before the COVID-19 pandemic halted criminal trials across the state. “The biggest smile, I miss his smile,” said Nancy Brenner, of her brother, William ‘Bill’ Jimerson. “I think about that all the time.”
“He didn’t deserve that,” Lucas Chavez-Negrete, Jimerson’s neighbor, told KRQE News 13.
Dash camera footage from a New Mexico State Police officer in December 2017 shows the officer conduct a welfare check at Jimerson’s home near Espanola. “Hey, William!” The officer knocked on Jimerson’s front door, shouting his name. A neighbor rushed down the driveway.
“We came down here to check on him because last night, someone started a fire in his driveway,” the neighbor said. “We put it out and we helped him last night. We came to check on him, and his brother called us to come check.”
“So, what’s up?” The officer asked. “Did you go inside?” The neighbor asked the officer. “No,” the officer responded.”
The neighbor told the officer he found Jimerson dead inside the front door. Chavez-Negrete is the neighbor who found Jimerson’s body. “He always gave great advice, and he was a great man,” Chavez-Negrete said. “He was an awesome dude. He was one of my best friends.”
The 67-year-old was found shot to death inside his home. “We were very close,” recalled John Jimerson, William’s older brother.
Even pre-pandemic, the victim’s family felt things were moving too slowly. “Because he lived out here in a crappy old trailer, and so he meant nothing,” said John Jimerson. “He wasn’t important. They didn’t care.”
Reports made to police before the murder
To understand why the family feels this way, Jimerson’s older brother, John, and his sister, Nancy Brenner asked News 13 to pull police records in their brother’s case. The family insists those records serve as proof their brother reached out to law enforcement for help in the months leading up to his murder, and even the night before, claiming Gabriel Sanchez was trying to kill him.
Through public records requests, KRQE News 13 obtained recorded phone calls and reports Jimerson made to authorities in the time leading up to his murder.
“He almost f****** killed me,” Jimerson is heard over the phone telling an NMSP dispatcher. It was a call Jimerson made in October 2017, two months before his death.
“He broke in my house. My name is William Jimerson,” his voice is heard in the recorded phone call.
Jimerson told officers Sanchez broke into his home in the middle of the night and started beating him up. Friends say Sanchez was angry after his longtime girlfriend, Ana ‘Sarajo’ Martinez, broke up with him and started seeing Jimerson.
Martinez says she was there the night Sanchez attacked Jimerson. “Jimerson kept saying, like, ‘stop, let’s just talk about this,’ like, calm down,’ and I was trying to get Gabriel off of him,” she recalled.
Records show no charges were filed after that break-in report. The responding officer noted in the report that no physical injuries were visible on Jimerson.
A fire the jury didn’t hear about
Then, a couple of months later in December, Jimerson made another phone call to the police.
“Caller is requesting an officer,” the dispatcher states to an officer. “He believes that somebody intentionally torched the house.”
A police report states Jimerson told the officer he’d been having problems with his girlfriend’s ex, Gabriel Sanchez. He told officers he believed Sanchez started the fire.
According to the incident report, Jimerson asked the officer what he could do to protect himself. He expressed concern that “nothing has been done” since reporting the assault.
The officer advised Jimerson he should apply for a protection order against Sanchez. He also suggested Jimerson get a camera system to watch over his property.
After the fire, Jimerson’s brother John also called State Police from his home in Las Cruces. “Yeah, this guy Gabriel Sanchez tried to kill my brother last night,” John told a dispatcher.
“OK?” The dispatcher replied. “My brother’s fearing for his life. He thinks this guy’s gonna come back and make a fourth attempt on his life,” John told the dispatcher.
The dispatcher put John on a brief hold, and then told him, “He’s already talked to an officer this morning.”
“Yeah, well what are you gonna do about this guy?” John asked. “OK, did you want to talk to an officer as well?” The dispatcher replied. “Yes,” John answered.
Hours later, John made another call to NMSP. “Yes, I called earlier this morning. We’re having that situation where a guy’s trying to kill my brother,” he told the dispatcher. “Right,” she replied.
“I’ve been trying to call him for hours now and I can’t get a hold of him,” John said. “I’m worried about him. Is there somebody to send an officer over there to see if he’s still alive?”
NMSP did send an officer to Jimerson’s house that morning in December to do a welfare check. That’s when the officer found Jimerson shot to death inside his home, with five gunshot wounds.
“Is there any doubt in your mind, any whatsoever, that Gabriel killed your brother?” KRQE News 13 asked Jimerson’s sister, Nancy. “Absolutely not,” she replied.
Waiting years for a trial
In the years since Jimerson’s murder, there have been series of motions filed over what evidence can be presented at trial. A district court judge ordered Sanchez’s cell phone records were not allowed to be admitted as evidence, citing an expired search warrant. However, the New Mexico State Supreme Court reversed that decision on an appeal by the Attorney General’s Office.
While officers believed the fire at Jimerson’s home was arson, records show there was no follow-up investigation by state fire investigators. The only item tested from the scene was a Bic lighter a year later, with no DNA matches to Sanchez or Jimerson.
The forensic lab report for the Bic lighter found at the scene states, “A major unknown male DNA profile was resolved from this DNA mixture. Gabriel Sanchez and William Jimerson are eliminated as a source of this major DNA profile. No interpretations or comparisons can be made regarding the minor component of this mixture due to an insufficient quantity of DNA in the sample.”
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In one court filing, defense attorneys argued, “…some of the State’s witnesses believe that Mr. Sanchez is responsible for the fire. But, the witness’ belief is all based on a hunch. There is no evidence connecting Mr. Sanchez to the fire.” Attorneys argued the fire incident shouldn’t be brought up at trial; a motion the state supreme court upheld.
“The killer is not Mr. Sanchez,” said Sydney West, one of Sanchez’s defense attorneys. “The killer is likely still out there, with blood-splattered clothes and shoes they probably would have gotten rid of by now.”
Sanchez’s attorneys didn’t want to comment on the case pending the outcome of the trial. They also claim lengthy court delays have violated Sanchez’s right to a speedy trial and attempted to get the case dismissed.
Meanwhile, Jimerson’s family shares similar frustrations. “It’s just been – it’s been horrible,” Nancy told KRQE News 13. “We will never be the same, none of us,” she added.
Sanchez spent the first 14 months after his arrest behind bars at the Rio Arriba County Detention Center. Since then, he’s been on an ankle monitor.