A Cheyenne trial jury was deliberating Monday night whether a 17-year-old boy killed a 15-year-old girl with an April 30 gunshot in Lincoln Park.
Johnny Muñoz and his friend Julian Espinoza drove past Lincoln Park in a dark-colored Suburban the night of April 29 after the South High School prom. Other males were in the vehicle with them. Full-metal jacket .380 ammunition reportedly sat in the console.
When they drove past the park, a shootout ensued and 15-year-old Baylee Carabajal-Clark was shot in the eye. She died in the hospital May 1.
Now a jury is deciding whether Muñoz and Espinoza conspired to commit murder that night, and whether Muñoz fired the bullet that killed Carabajal-Clark.
In Wyoming, prosecutors can still charge someone with conspiracy to commit murder, even if the person who was killed isn’t the person the defendant planned to murder. It’s a legal concept called transferred intent.
Muñoz’s defense attorney Patty Bennett and Laramie County Deputy Attorney Bill Edelman delivered very different theories of the case in closing statements to the jury Monday afternoon in Laramie County District Court.
Edelman told the jury that a dark-colored Suburban, driven by Espinoza, with Muñoz in the passenger seat, rolled up to the park and slowed so that Muñoz could shoot at Joey Carabajal Jr. — another teen in Cheyenne who was charged last year with attempted second-degree murder.
Edelman indicated that Muñoz and Carabajal Jr. had an old rivalry, and that Muñoz knew his enemy would be at the park because so many people had posted about a nearby party that night on social media.
“All of (the witnesses) testified they watched as the passenger-side front window was rolled down. And they told you they heard gunfire,” said Edelman.
Though the teens’ stories changed somewhat over the course of the investigation, Edelman noted that they’d endured harrowing trauma in seeing their friend, or twin, or cousin killed.
Four .380-caliber shell casings of dropped near where the Suburban rolled past. Experts concluded in court that those casings were from the same gun, Edelman noted.
One witness who’d been in the car with Muñoz said he heard a gunshot so loud, his ears rang, which Edelman said signified that the gun was fired from within the car, not from the park.
“At the end of the day you’ve got Baylee with a .380 hollow point in her head and three .380 shell casings in the street where the SUV was,” Edelman said. There was a fourth matching casing in the grass. “There’s only one person … who can be responsible for Baylee Carbajal-Clark’s death, and that’s Johnny Muñoz.”
But It Was A Hollow Point
Bennett countered, saying the teenage witnesses gave “kernels of truth,” but the louder truth is in what they didn’t tell law enforcement.
There were more bullet casings on the basketball court side of the park.
Witnesses testified that Baylee Carabajal-Clark was sitting facing the basketball court, and when she was shot in the eye, she lurched onto her back.
Bennett said there was no evidence the girl turned toward the Suburban, but that all evidence suggested she remained facing the court as she was shot.
“The state would have you believe a bullet fired from 7th Street somehow magically turned, (and) hit someone in the face that was turned toward the basketball court and not toward the street,” said Bennett.
The defender emphasized expert testimony that the girl was hit with a hollow-point bullet. But the ammunition found in the Suburban were full-metal jackets.
“When law enforcement learned it wasn’t a full-metal jacket that killed Baylee, they didn’t do anything to change their investigation or their theory,” said Bennett.
She also pointed to evidence, including neighborhood video surveillance, that the other teens who’d been on the court had guns and ran to get rid of the guns after the shootout.
There were at least three other guns on the court that night, said Bennett. And there were at least 20 shots fired, by her count of a doorbell camera’s audio.
Investigators only found 18 shell casings, the defender added.
“Justice for Baylee comes in finding the truth, not in convicting someone that didn’t commit those crimes,” said Bennett.
Jury Has Choices
The jury can convict Muñoz on conspiracy to commit first-degree murder or first-degree murder, if all 12 jurors find that Muñoz planned ahead of time to kill someone with malice and killed on purpose.
But if the jurors don’t believe Muñoz did that, they can convict him on one of the lesser included offenses of second-degree murder (not premeditated, but malicious), voluntary manslaughter (killing upon a sudden heat of passion) or involuntary manslaughter (killing recklessly).
This jury also can choose to convict Muñoz for criminally negligent homicide, if the jurors feel he killed Carabajal-Clark by neglecting his basic duty of care as a human.
Or, the jury can acquit Muñoz, if all jurors believe Edelman has failed to demonstrate all the elements in any one of those crimes.
The penalties vary wildly.
Criminally negligent homicide is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a fine of $2,000.
Both variants of manslaughter merit penalties up to 20 years in prison.
Second-degree murder is punishable by between 20 years and life in prison. First-degree murder is only punishable in this case by life in prison.
Though Wyoming is a death-penalty state, Muñoz cannot face the death penalty because he was a minor at the time of the killing.
Having broken for a night's rest at 7:30 p.m. Monday, the jury will continue deliberating Tuesday morning.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.