Man sentenced to life in prison for 2017 Taos murder

May 25, 2019

TAOS — A state District Court judge has sentenced Brandon Lopez to life in prison plus eight years for the 2017 murder of Destiny Valdez, a 23-year-old Ranchos de Taos woman fatally shot by Lopez outside a gas station in Taos.

A jury found Lopez guilty of first-degree murder and four other counts in May 2018 after a two-day trial and more than a day of deliberations.

Two of Valdez’s family members spoke at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, telling the court about the pain caused by the loss of Valdez, who is also survived by a young son.

Marcus Montoya, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Taos, asked District Judge Emilio Chavez to impose the maximum sentence.

For the murder conviction, Chavez gave Lopez life imprisonment, the most severe punishment available in New Mexico since the state abolished the death penalty in 2009. The judge added eight years to the sentence for convictions on two counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated assault.

Surveillance footage of the Feb. 3, 2017, shooting outside a Shell gas station in Taos, played during the trial, showed Lopez arriving in a gray sedan and getting into an altercation with two men in a vehicle also occupied by Valdez and two teenagers.

Lopez returned to his sedan and then fired several rounds from a handgun at the back of the vehicle. One of the bullets struck Valdez in the head.

The teens drove her to Holy Cross Hospital. From there, she was flown in a helicopter to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she was placed on life support but died of the gunshot wound four days later.

The District Attorney’s Office in Taos issued a statement Thursday on Lopez’s sentence:

“While no amount of time in custody can replace the loss of the beloved daughter, the loving mother, and this cherished young community member, hopefully this sentence provides some closure for the family, and hopefully the incarceration enhances the safety of the community.”

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