Jury finds Moreno guilty on all counts

Published 12:14 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

After almost 5 1/2 hours of deliberation, a 12-member jury on Wednesday found Ben Vidal Moreno guilty of all five of the charges against him tied to the shooting death of Juan Vasquez Jr. and the attempted murder of Marco Posada in August 2022 south of Albert Lea.

As Freeborn County District Court Judge Christy Hormann read the verdicts, Moreno faced forward with no expression on his face.

Seated in the audience were members of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, as well as members of Moreno’s family.

Email newsletter signup

Moreno has now been convicted of two counts of second-degree murder in the death of Juan Vasquez Jr. — one count of second-degree murder with intent but not premeditated and one count of second-degree murder without intent while committing second-degree assault — along with one count of attempted second-degree assault of Posada, who was with Vasquez that day, and two counts of ineligible person possessing a firearm.

The jury began deliberations at about 11:25 a.m., and right after 3 p.m. Hormann received two questions from the jury, and the panel was brought back into the courtroom for a response.

The questions asked what the difference was between the first and second counts of second-degree murder, and the other question centered around the intent part of the second-degree murder charges.

Hormann advised the jury to refer to the jury instructions she had previously given them before deliberations began. The jury had a copy of the instructions in the jury room during their deliberations.

They then went back to continue deliberations and by about 4:45 p.m. had sent notice they had received a verdict.

Prosecutors argued Vasquez came to the property at 75463 160th St. south of Albert Lea twice on Aug. 9, 2022, with Posada — the first time to drop off a trailer with trash to dump at the property.

They said when Vasquez saw Moreno’s dog at the property he fired two shots in the air and yelled for Moreno to come out of the house. Moreno and Adam Sorum, who lived at the property owned by his father, hid inside the house while Vasquez was outside.

Witnesses testified that threats had been ongoing from both Vasquez and Moreno in the weeks leading up to the shooting, and Moreno testified Monday that the argument stemmed from a package of methamphetamine he took that had been mailed to an Albert Lea home and was intended for Vasquez.

Evidence showed after they left the property the first time, Vasquez and Posada then went to Diamond Jo Casino for about 45 minutes before returning property.

The prosecution said Vasquez got out of the Honda CR-V he and Posada were riding in and got into an argument with his daughter, Raquel, who had come back to the property with another woman, Ashley Estrada, during the period Vasquez and Posada were at the casino.

Assistant Minnesota Attorney General John Gross argued that evidence showed that Juan Vasquez then got back into the vehicle and they started driving away, when Moreno, who was hiding on the back side of the house, began firing with a shotgun at the vehicle when it was near the end of the driveway where it met with the gravel 160th Street.

Vasquez then got out of the vehicle and walked up the driveway, while Moreno grabbed a rifle from Sorum. Moreno ultimately shot Vasquez in the chest.

Vasquez was found with his handgun in his pocket.

Agents from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension testified shotgun shell wads were found near the bottom of the driveway near where it intersects with the gravel 160th Street. Two spent .380 caliber cartridge cases were found — one in the upper turnaround area of the driveway closer to the home and the second near the sidewalk near the south side of the house.

No spent .380 shell casings were found in the middle of the driveway, and Gross said the trajectory that the shotgun shells were found to have entered the vehicle did not match Moreno’s story.

Prosecutors also played phone calls from the Freeborn County with Moreno and others and talked about inconsistencies he gave in his story each time.

Moreno’s lawyer, Andrew Leone, in his closing arguments referenced Moreno’s testimony from Monday, saying that as the vehicle started coming down the driveway it slowed and came to a stop “toward the mouth of the driveway.” He said at first Vasquez and Posada didn’t see him but then the SUV started to slow down and he saw Vasquez get out of the car in the middle of the driveway and go to the other side of the car, use the car to shield himself and then shot at Moreno.

Moreno said he in response shot with the shotgun three or four times. He said he didn’t know anybody else was in the vehicle with Vasquez until Vasquez got out of the passenger side instead of the driver’s seat.

He testified he was scared for his life and said he retrieved a rifle from Sorum and ultimately shot Vasquez when he saw him reach for something.

Leone told jurors the evidence did line up with Moreno’s version of events and described Vasquez as “the aggressor.”

Hormann ordered Moreno cooperate with a pre-sentence investigation.

Sentencing has been slated for 3:30 p.m. May 30.