Taos shooting victim dies; suspect arraigned

A December 2014 image of Destiny M. Valdez from her Facebook page. Facebook

Brandon Lopez, a Ranchos de Taos man suspected in a Feb. 3 shooting that fatally wounded a 23-year-old Taos mother, was arraigned in Taos County Magistrate Court Feb. 7.

Judge Jeff Shannon presided over the public proceeding. Attorney Aleksandar Kostich served as counsel for the defendant. Also on hand was state attorney Ron Olsen, along with Taos Police Department Det. Barry Holfelder, who is investigating the incident.

Just moments into his opening argument, Olsen received a text notifying him that Destiny M. Valdez, who had been on life support after suffering a gunshot wound to the head during the incident, had been pronounced dead at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

"For this reason, the state is going to request a high bond in this matter," Olsen said after making the announcement to the courtroom. At the hearing were retired police personnel, bail bondsmen, other attorneys, Chief Magistrate Court Judge Ernest Ortega, and some members of Lopez's family, who sat directly behind the defendant.

Both the defendant and his family began to cry when the news of the victim's death was announced. Lopez looked over his shoulder at his family several times throughout the proceeding.

Olsen continued with his statements, arguing that the bond amount set by the court should be raised from the original $90,000 to $100,000, cash-only.

In support of this request, Olsen then proceeded to recite the facts of the case — citing the defendant's criminal history, the fact that others who had been sitting in the car with Valdez the evening of Feb. 3 could also have been killed during the incident, as well as bystanders.

"You know judge, this is obviously a small town and the state has serious concerns for the safety of this community," Olsen said. "[Other] innocent people could easily have been injured by Mr. Lopez’ actions that night. Another round also went through the driver’s seat of the vehicle, near the headrest, which appears just to the right of where Mr. Peter Martinez was sitting. It’s just a miracle he wasn’t killed as well.”

Olsen also noted a receipt discovered in Lopez' wallet dated Feb. 3, which indicated the defendant's alleged intent to purchase an additional handgun from Wild West Trading Co. in Taos.

Called on for a response, Kostich only requested that a "reasonable bond" be set by the court.

Shannon stated that the defendant's bond amount would remain at $90,000 cash-only, as well as the conditions of a release if the bond were met, which would require the defendant to undergo a mental health evaluation, be under house arrest, wear a GPS tracking device, and have no access to drugs, alcohol, or weapons "of any kind."

"We have video, eye witnesses, shell casings and admission," Shannon said. "The evidence appears to be strong in this case."

Near the close of the proceeding, Lopez looked over his shoulder a final time at his family and said, "I'm sorry," several times before being escorted back to his cell at the Taos County Adult Detention Center.

In light of Valdez's death, related to a gunshot allegedly inflicted during the incident, Lopez is likely to face murder charges, in addition to the eight felony charges already filed .

The criminal complaint prepared by the court is expected to be amended this week and a new arraignment scheduled for the defendant.

A preliminary examination has been set for Feb. 16.

For more on this case, see the Feb. 9 edition of The Taos News.

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