Martin Rivera, 25, was sentenced to a total of 17 years at the New Mexico Department of Corrections on April 7 after he pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge – a third degree felony – among others. Rivera admitted to shooting Javier Muñoz, 33, Oct. 19, 2019 on Sugar Lane, just northwest of Taos.
Rivera’s case had dragged through court for over a year-and-a half. He was indicted by a grand jury in November 2019, but his jury trial was vacated once and granted two continuances. He was set to appear before a jury April 5, but took a habitual-offender plea deal just days before the trial began. Rivera appeared before Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Jeffrey Shannon.
Rivera’s plea involved admitting guilt to a long list of charges he had racked up over the past five years, including the manslaughter charge; shooting at or from a motor vehicle – a second degree felony; receipt, transportation, or possession of a firearm by a felon – a fourth degree felony; armed robbery – a second degree felony; and possession of a firearm or explosive by a prisoner – a second degree felony.
He also admitted his identity as the person responsible for a 2015 charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and a 2017 aggravated battery event, when he stabbed a man in the parking lot of Smith’s.
During the sentencing hearing, which was delayed due to some technical difficulties, the family of Javier Muñoz was given a chance to speak. Miriam Muñoz, the widow of Javier, spoke through tears to Rivera.
“Your actions on the morning of Oct. 19, 2019, have changed the life of my family, mine, and especially my little boy, and now he has to grow up without a dad. You know exactly what it's like to grow up without a dad because yours was murdered too.” She said she would work to make sure her son ended up a good person “so he doesn’t turn into somebody like you,” she said to Rivera.
Francisca Rivera, Muñoz’s mother, spoke through a court appointed translator. “He doesn't care,” she said. “He has no love in his heart and he doesn't care about anyone. “I don’t know why he still gets to have his life, but I do thank you for the justice, if there is justice. I will never get my son back,” she said.
Rivera was given a chance to speak, and used the time to defend his actions, and say that he did have love and empathy for others. “I do have love for my family, my children, and those who stand by me. Out of that love I made the choice to preserve my life,” he said, adding that he felt it was either him or Muñoz. “I did what was necessary to live another day. There’s two sides to every story.” He apologized to Muñoz’s family, but said that “sometimes there is no better choice, it’s either bad or worse.”
Near the end of the sentencing hearing, Judge Shannon gave his two cents on the tragedy that had unfolded. “I want to speak for a moment about wasted lives,” he began. “The first wasted life is Mr. Muñoz, who is gone forever … the second wasted life is yours Mr. Rivera. You've been in the justice system for about 10 years now, and you're going to be spending the next 15 years, give or take, probably into your early 40s, the Department of Corrections. The best part of your life is being spent in prison … and that’s a wasted life.”
Shannon went on to say Rivera should be avoiding guns, and said that they should have been out of his life a long time ago. “What I see now is this: I see another case in which a gun has resulted in a tragedy to two families ... You should have been a family man at home with your kid, watching TV or playing video games,” he added, seemingly disappointed.
“We get one crack at life, one crack, and get it and make the best of it and most of it that we can,” said Shannon, ending the sentencing. “What I want you to do is this Mr. Rivera: I want you to make the most of [your time] at the Department of Corrections, so hopefully that when you do get out of prison, with those remaining years you have on this earth, that you have a positive influence among those around you.”
“Yes sir,” replied Rivera.