The two Cheyenne teens accused in the drive-by murder of a 15-year-old girl last week are being charged as adults.
Although they’re both charged with first-degree murder variations, 17-year-old Johnny Muñoz and 16-year-old Julian Espinoza do not face the death penalty because they were minors during the alleged April 30 homicide in Cheyenne’s Lincoln Park.
They face life in prison if convicted, however.
Cheyenne Circuit Court Judge Antoinette Williams read both teens their rights Wednesday morning in their first court appearances, and set a $250,000 cash-only bond on each. Espinoza and Muñoz are being held at the Laramie County Juvenile Detention Center.
They appeared in court by virtual link wearing jail-issued tan V-necked shirts. They spoke clearly and politely as they interacted with Judge Williams.
Not This Car
Cheyenne Police Officer Robert Wingeleth was patrolling near the 100 block of Central Avenue in Cheyenne about 12:21 a.m. April 30, when he heard what sounded like multiple gunshots, according to an evidentiary affidavit by Cheyenne Police Department Detective Mike Fernandez filed in both cases.
Wingeleth traveled east toward the sound, where he encountered a black Chevy Suburban traveling south on Warren Avenue with no headlights or taillights on. He took down its license plate number.
The Suburban navigated onto another street and kept turning its headlights on and off, the affidavit says, so Wingeleth pulled over the driver, Espinoza.
In the passenger seat sat Muñoz, and other males were in the back two rows of the Suburban.
Espinoza told Wingeleth that he and his four friends were driving away from the Lincoln Park area because they heard gunshots, the affidavit alleges.
Wingeleth was learning simultaneously via dispatch that a 15-year-old girl had sustained a gunshot wound to her head, and that police believed the suspect vehicle was a black or red Cadillac Escalade.
Because the vehicle models didn’t match up, Wingeleth let Espinoza and the others go, then he went to the shooting scene to help the other officers, the affidavit says.
The One Shot
The girl had been shot in the left side of her face while at the park playing basketball with her friends and siblings after an evening barbecue at a house near the park.
She was bleeding and unresponsive as officers held pressure on the left side of her face and performed CPR until emergency medical personnel arrived and took the girl to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.
She died a little more than a day later, the affidavit says.
Hospital staff said the bullet entered through her right orbital, severed her carotid artery and ended up in the area of the left back side of her brain.
What Color Though
Police found multiple witnesses at the scene, most of them minors.
A neighbor who came outside after he heard the shots said he saw one of the boys at the park, identified in the affidavit as a 17-year-old with the initials J.O., shirtless and talking on a cellphone after the incident.
The witness overheard J.O.’s cellphone conversation, the affidavit says, adding that J.O. told someone that a black car drove up and “started shooting at us, so I pulled mine and fired back.”
Officers visited with J.O. next.
He said he was playing basketball with friends when a Cadillac SUV pulled up and fired between seven and 10 shots at the court. At first he took off running, he said, but his friends yelled at him that his friend’s sister had been shot. So he ran back, J.O. told police.
He found the girl lying on the ground, took his shirt off, applied pressure to her head and called 911.
The affidavit relates that J.O. also said he returned fire with his 9 mm handgun.
The teen believed a male passenger of the vehicle fired the gun through the window, and he remembered its barrel sparking in the night. He told police the car was cherry red, the affidavit says.
Sparks On The Court
Other witnesses said they were all playing or watching the basketball game after the barbecue. Some of them were siblings and cousins.
They couldn’t agree on the color of the vehicle, but they all said the front-seat passenger had fired the gun. They remembered sparks hitting the cement court, the affidavit says.
Another set of homeowners in the area had bullet damage to their sunroom and exterior wall. Two trucks near the court had gunshot damage as well.
Yet another resident told police she had a doorbell camera and recorded footage of the shooting.
Detective Fernandez reviewed the footage. He saw a vehicle with its headlights on creeping west just before the shooting. He heard three shots, then another, then 16 rapid, nearly simultaneous shots.
Meanwhile, officers discovered four spent SIG gold-colored .380 shell casings on the north side of the street and in the grass on East 7th Street, consistent with the travel path Espinoza had driven in the Chevy just before being pulled over, the affidavit alleges.
By about 4:30 a.m. that day, Fernandez and other police agents arrived at a home on Rogers Avenue, where the Suburban was parked.
Fernandez knocked. He met Espinoza’s mother at the door, and also soon met a 62- or 63-year-old man, the owner of the Chevy.
Police told the man his Chevy had been towed to the police department as evidence in a shooting.
Fernandez then spoke with Espinoza, who was also at the home.
Right After Prom
Espinoza, who is a South High School student, said he’d just left the prom that night and picked up his friends on the south side of Cheyenne.
While driving by the people at Lincoln Park, said Espinoza, “they thought we were somebody we weren’t and started shooting at us,” the affidavit relates.
“The first thing I do is hit the gas. I’m trying to get out of there,” he continued.
At this point the man in the house interjected, asking Espinoza if his Suburban had any bullet holes in it.
“No, there ain’t shit, thank God,” Espinoza said, according to the affidavit.
Fernandez pressed on with the interview, asking Espinoza what happened.
Espinoza said “we were gonna drive by and play basketball at LP by Destiny Church, we saw a bunch of people,” the affidavit says. “They just started shooting back. They started shooting so we were, I was gone.”
Fernandez confronted Espinoza, saying he was concerned about why Espinoza would say the teens in the park started “shooting back.”
Espinoza said, “No, we shot at them,” the affidavit alleges.
“OK,” answered Fernandez.
“No they shot at us, oh my God, they shot at us,” said Espinoza, according to the affidavit.
Espinoza confirmed that Muñoz was his front-seat passenger. He also confirmed that Wingeleth had pulled him over that night. He said he turned off his headlights because he thought “they” were following them, says the affidavit.
Espinoza said he heard a lot of shots, but denied that any of his passengers had a gun, so far as he was aware.
Espinoza told Fernandez that he told Wingeleth during the traffic stop that someone had shot at them, the affidavit says.
Fernandez reviewed Wingeleth’s bodycam footage of the stop. He didn’t hear Espinoza tell Wingeleth at any point in the footage that people had been shooting at them, but he did see Muñoz pulling up his clothing on the left side of his body, the affidavit says.
Fernandez believed from the footage that Muñoz “appeared to place an object in his waistband.”
That same day, April 30, Fernandez also spoke with Muñoz and the other teens who’d been in the Suburban.
Their descriptions of where everyone had been sitting matched Espinoza’s account.
They also said they’d driven by Lincoln Park and had been shot at, and confirmed that they were then pulled over, the affidavit says.
They denied that anyone in their Suburban had or fired a gun.
Inside The Suburban
The man who owns the Suburban gave police permission to search it, the affidavit says.
Inside the SUV officers found 11 gold-colored .380 unspent rounds in the center console box. The ammunition matched the spent shell casing found among the vehicles and homes opposite the basketball court, the affidavit alleges.
View From The Barbecue
On May 1, the day of the girl’s death, Cheyenne Detectives Baca and Willmarth contacted a woman who lived near the park, and who had a surveillance recording system on her home.
This woman also was the hostess of the barbecue party, the affidavit indicates.
Ferndanez reviewed her security footage and found that a dark-colored SUV similar to the Suburban drove by during the barbecue.
A short time later, the affidavit says Fernandez watched three teenage boys in the video run back to the woman’s house from the direction of Lincoln Park. One of them was J.O., who appeared to have a handgun.
Park First, Then High School
Detectives kept processing evidence at the park. They found 14 spent 9 mm shell casings, grey and gold, in the grass, which they believed consistent with J.O.’s statement that he shot back after the SUV.
Also on May 1, Fernandez learned of the girl’s death.
Other detectives went to visit with Espinoza at South High School at about noon, the affidavit says.
Espinoza did not want to talk to them, saying he didn’t have anything to add to what he’d told Fernandez the day before.
The detectives said he was free to leave the interview at any time, but that they were seizing Espinoza’s phone as evidence.
Espinoza grew “extremely upset,” the affidavit alleges, took out his cellphone and started swiping through it. One of the detectives believed Espinoza was trying to delete data from his phone, and the detective grabbed Espinoza by the arm.
Espinoza pulled away, the affidavit says, and began swinging his arms, fighting detectives. They told him repeatedly to stop fighting but he kept fighting.
Espinoza called his mother and told her to come to the school, says the affidavit.
He then “stormed out of the main office,” the document continues, walked through the cafeteria, went out into the parking lot and kept deleting things from his phone.
A detective told Espinoza to put his phone inside his pants pocket until his mother arrived, which he did. But Espinoza kept taking the phone out and deleting data, the affidavit alleges. So detectives grabbed him by the arms again and told him to stay off his cellphone.
Espinoza fought and resisted, then fell to the ground. Once on the ground, they released his arms and told him again to sit on the bench until his mother arrived.
A detective eventually got possession of Espinoza’s cellphone, then gave it to Fernandez, the affidavit says.
What A Bullet Weighs
Fernandez went to the girl’s autopsy May 3, two days after her death.
The bullet was intact, the affidavit says, so investigators pulled the bullet out and weighed it.
It weighed 90.4 grains.
The 9 mm bullets J.O. said he shot were heavier, the affidavit says, weighing in at 115.4 grains.
But the .380 bullets from the Chevy Suburban were 100-grain full metal jackets, says the affidavit.
Fernandez believed, based on the bullet weights, that the girl died from a .380 strike, not a 9 mm.
The Laramie County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday charged Muñoz with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, each charge punishable by life in prison.
The prosecutor’s office also charged Espinoza with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and aiding and abetting first-degree murder, also punishable by life in prison.
Their prosecution is ongoing.
Clair McFarland may be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com