A 17-year-old Cheyenne teen has been found guilty of second-degree murder for killing a 15-year-old girl by shooting up a local park in late April.
The 12-person jury in Laramie County District Court convicted Johnny Angel Muñoz of second-degree murder Tuesday afternoon after deliberating for eight hours Monday and Tuesday.
The second-degree murder conviction means that while he was still 16, Muñoz rode past Cheyenne’s Lincoln Park in a friend’s Suburban and fired a pistol into a crowded basketball court, killing Baylee Carabajal-Clark with malice, but without premeditation.
Carabajal-Clark, 15, was sitting on the edge of a basketball court watching her friends and relatives play ball the night of April 29-30 after a family barbecue.
According to court testimony, Muñoz meant to kill the girl’s cousin, Joey Carabajal Jr. But in Wyoming, that doesn’t matter: fault for murder exists even if the victim wasn’t the intended victim.
Muñoz will be sentenced at a later date after state Department of Corrections employees compile a report on who he is and his prospects of rehabilitation for Judge Catherine Rodgers to review. He faces a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life.
The jury had many choices in this trial. It could have convicted Muñoz of nearly any murder-crime variation from first-degree murder, which is the most serious crime on Wyoming’s law books, to criminally negligent homicide, which is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail.
The jury, consisting of six men and six women, chose second-degree murder, meaning they believe Muñoz didn’t premeditate the killing but performed it on purpose and maliciously.
Laramie County Deputy Attorney Bill Edelman prosecuted the case.
He presented evidence to show that Muñoz and his friend, Julian Espinoza, intended to ride to the park that night following a high school prom and after encountering social-media evidence that Muñoz’s enemy, Carabajal Jr., would be in that area for a party.
A doorbell camera at a nearby home captured a rapid succession of shots, followed by a fleeting pause and another rapid succession of shots.
At least one of the teens on the basketball court fired back at the Suburban that night. Muñoz’s defense attorney Patty Bennett showed evidence that there were at least three guns unaccounted for.
“That video evidence from the doorbell, that lays out how those shots were timed in two different, distinct sets is very telling,” said Edelman. “Doesn’t it make the most sense — that the SUV opens fire, and that the people in the park return fire?”
Bennett during her closing statements Monday evening the evidence suggested, rather, that the people in the park could have opened fire first.
Or that one of the people firing from within the park could have been the one to shoot Baylee Carabajal-Clark in the eye and cause her death a day later.
Bennett pointed to testimony that the girl was facing toward the basketball court, and yet fell backward when hit.
Edelman said Bennett’s theories about the evidence were “wild speculation.” He cited one witness who said the girl was “looking left toward the SUV when the shots started.”
“There’s only one person … who can be responsible for Baylee Carbajal-Clark’s death,” said Edelman. “And that’s Johnny Muñoz.”
Though Muñoz is a minor, the prosecutor charged him as an adult in this case. Muñoz attempted months ago to have his case transfered to the juvenile court, which could only have penalized him through age 21. But that effort failed.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.