Moreno testifies Vasquez fired shots at him, was reaching for something when he fired fatal shot

Published 7:11 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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The Albert Lea man on trial for shooting and killing Juan Vasquez Jr. in August 2022 testified Monday he was afraid Vasquez was going to kill him and that he saw him reach for something before he fatally shot him.

Ben Moreno’s testimony came after about 3 1/2 days of other witness testimony for the state.

Moreno faces five charges, including two counts of second-degree murder in the death of Vasquez, one count of attempted second-degree murder of Marco Posada and two counts of ineligible possession of a firearm.

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Moreno said during August 2022 prior to the shooting, the relationship was not good between himself and Vasquez, who he described as the grandfather of his children. He said there had been a misunderstanding about drugs he had taken from Vasquez that were sent in the mail to Brian Fredrickson’s house in Albert Lea. He said the package was left on the doorstep of the house. 

Since that incident, there had been threats going both ways.

He said the night before the shooting incident, he had traveled to Austin to sell some of the stolen meth to an individual there. When asked if he had made statements at that interaction about killing Vasquez, Moreno said he had not made those statements and that he had actually been laughing about how he had taken the drugs from Vasquez. 

He said on his way back from that drug deal he drove back to Albert Lea and got to the point where his tire started having problems. He was with Raquel Vasquez, Juan Vasquez’s daughter, and they ended up at what he described as an abandoned gas station between Austin and Albert Lea.

From there, he said they got a hold of Adam Sorum, who brought the vehicle back to his farm to see if he could fix it. He estimated they got to the farm at about 5 or 6 in the morning.

After working on the truck for a while, and Rachel Vasquez left with Ashley Estrada, Adam Sorum’s girlfriend, to a scheduled visit to see his and Raquel Vasquez’s children, he and Sorum went inside, took a break and did some meth before he heard whistling from who he recognized as Juan Vasquez outside. After that, he said he heard cursing and yelling, and he could see Vasquez hold up his dog by the neck and say “Where’s your daddy?”

He said the dog at that time never left his side, and people knew that, so Vasquez knew he must have been there.

Moreno testified he had one of Sorum’s shotguns in his hands and Sorum had a rifle, and he was afraid Vasquez was going to shoot his dog. Vasquez then fired a couple shots into the air.

“I was afraid he was going to kick the door in and come in,” Moreno said.

After that he made calls to both Raquel Vasquez and Estrada’s phones, telling them what had happened.. 

He noted while he didn’t see Juan Vasquez leave, it did get quiet, and at some point Estrada and Raquel Vasquez returned.

Moreno said he thought the women had tried to set him up, and when they got back, he began arguing with Raquel Vasquez and yelling at Estrada.

He remembered Raquel Vasquez yelling in Spanish that she didn’t think her father had left, and he said he didn’t know if he had left either.

He and Adam were headed back to try to work on his truck again, when he heard Estrada say that Juan Vasquez had come back.

Moreno said he ran to the back of the house to hide and grabbed a shotgun from Sorum. He said he didn’t feel like he had anywhere to run.

From there, he said he could hear Juan Vasquez and his daughter arguing but he wasn’t exactly sure where Vasquez was. 

After a few minutes, he walked up closer to the driveway to see if Juan Vasquez was still there, and at that time the white Honda CR-V that Juan Vasquez and Marco Posada were in was coming down the driveway and leaving the house.

At first they didn’t see him but then the SUV started to slow down and he saw Juan 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 said he was scared, and that’s why he shot at that time. 

After that, he said he tried to go into the house but found two doors that were locked and told Sorum he was out of ammunition and got another gun from him, all the while Vasquez reportedly could be heard threatening to kill him.  

As Moreno tried to get around to the front door, he said Vasquez reportedly kept coming toward him, continuing threats. He told Vasquez to stop, and then he said it looked as if Vasquez were reaching for something, and then he shot Vasquez. 

When questioned Moreno said he saw a gun in Vasquez’s hand at that point, but then at another time when asked again, he said he just saw Vasquez reach for something.

Moreno said he thought if he didn’t shoot first, then Vasquez was going to shoot him. 

After Vasquez was shot, he said he started yelling for Sorum and told him he needed to get out of there. Sorum gave him the keys to his father’s white pickup and even got into the truck himself before Moreno told him he had to get out and to call the police. 

When asked if there was any discussion about what to do next, Moreno said he just wanted to leave, and Raquel Vasquez reportedly said she just wanted to bury her father. 

Moreno said he told Raquel Vasquez and Estrada to say that he pointed the gun at them so they wouldn’t get in trouble for going with them. He also told them to go through the grass to the nearby interstate instead of going on the gravel road because they were afraid the person in the car had a gun. 

He said he still lives in fear for his life over the drugs and doesn’t know where the rifle is that was used in the shooting. He  figured Sorum and his father stashed it somewhere.

In cross examination, Assistant Attorney General John Gross questioned inconsistencies in Moreno’s statements on various phone calls that had been made while he was in jail when he gave different accounts of the situation. 

Moreno said a lot of the phone calls he lied in because he didn’t want the people he was talking to knowing his business. He said the only person he gave an honest account to was his mother. Gross pointed out even in that call, he didn’t mention Vasquez having a handgun, and Moreno said he didn’t know how he didn’t mention that to her. 

When asked by his own lawyer if the middle of the driveway where Vasquez got out of his vehicle could also refer to the “mouth of the driveway,” Moreno answered in the affirmative.

After Moreno’s testimony, the defense rested. Closing arguments will begin Tuesday, after which jury deliberations will begin.