Fatal shooting testimony reveals conflicting narratives

Published 7:48 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

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Other people at the property south of Albert Lea where Juan Vasquez Jr. was shot and killed testified Thursday in Freeborn County District Court of what they witnessed the day of the shooting.

While two of the people testified that Vasquez did not fire a gun in return to defendant Ben Moreno’s shots, one of the people, Ashley Estrada, testified to the contrary that Vasquez had fired back with a handgun.

The testimony came on the second day of witness testimony in Moreno’s trial.

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Moreno faces five counts, including two counts of second-degree murder in Vasquez’s death, one count of attempted second-degree murder of Marco Posada, who was with Vasquez that day, and two counts of ineligible possession of a firearm.

Adam Sorum, who lived on the property at 75463 160th St. where the shooting occurred, said he owned two 12-gauge shotguns — a Benelli SuperNova pump-action and a Mossberg 535 shotgun — and often had the Benelli loaded in the magazine with double-aught buckshot ammunition. He also owned two rifles, a Remington and a Savage Model 99.

At that time, he said he would use his father’s white Ford F-150, and his girlfriend at the time, Ashley Estrada would often use it, too.

He said he had known Moreno and Moreno’s girlfriend, Raquel Vasquez, also referred to as Rachel, for about a year.

Sorum said on the morning of Aug. 9, 2022, Rachel Vasquez, who is the daughter of Juan Vasquez, had called and said she and Moreno had broken down in her truck at the Hayward gas pumps. He went and picked up the vehicle and brought it back to the property, where he parked it by a quonset shed. He said he determined the vehicle needed a new wheel bearing, which he could replace. While he worked to replace it, Estrada and Rachel Vasquez left to go to a Department of Human Services visit in the white F-150 at about 10:30 a.m. for Rachel Vasquez and her two children.

Sorum said they took a break from the vehicle repair around noon, and both he and Moreno used some methamphetamine at that time in the kitchen of the house.

He said he was aware of a dispute between Moreno and Juan Vasquez— noting it had something to do with a gun being left at Rachel Vasquez’s place, and that they had blamed each other for her children being taken away.

He said while he and Moreno were in the kitchen, they heard Juan Vasquez whistling outside. Moreno got up, closed the front door and locked it and told him to lock the basement. Moreno had grabbed the Mossberg shotgun, and Sorum said he went to look out the upper windows. He said he couldn’t see much but saw Juan Vasquez in the front yard, noting he didn’t think Vasquez could see either of them. Soon, however Vasquez noticed Moreno’s dog and began yelling for Moreno to come out and then fired a shot.

Sorum said Moreno handed him the Savage rifle, and then he heard a second shot outside. He said he couldn’t see who made the shot but could tell it was from a handgun.

He and Moreno remained in the house until Estrada and Rachel Vasquez returned. He didn’t think about calling 911 because he thought the situation was over.

Sorum said Moreno had accused Estrada and Rachel Vasquez of telling Juan Vasquez he was there.

At that time, Sorum gathered the guns and put them aside and eventually took them all to one of the campers and locked them in there.

Shortly after, Moreno reportedly said Vasquez was back, and he went back to the camper and got the Benelli and Savage, and Moreno grabbed the Benelli and he kept the Savage.

Sorum said he saw Moreno go to the back of the house where the grass was a lot taller, while he was near a pickup. He said he could see Moreno at the corner of the house.

Rachel and Juan Vasquez were arguing in the front yard for several minutes until it got quiet and then the shots started.

Sorum said he could see Moreno shooting the shotgun toward the driveway. He couldn’t see what he was shooting at but heard a cluster of shots — he estimated about four shots.

After that, he said he went to the basement door, but it was locked. Moreno came from the back of the house and said he was out of ammunition and grabbed the rifle, which was loaded, and gave him the shotgun.

Sorum said he panicked and didn’t know what to do and at one point said he heard Juan Vasquez yell, “How could you do that to me?”

A couple minutes after Moreno took the rifle from him, Sorum said he heard a shot from the rifle and then heard it reload. Moreno reportedly said to Juan Vasquez, “Do you want another one?” Sorum did not see the incident from where he was hiding.

He then tried to see if Vasquez was still breathing, and he heard Moreno say he had to get out of there because the police were going to get him for murder. At that time, Estrada and Rachel Vasquez came out of the house, and Moreno told Estrada to drive, and he and the two women got in the truck and left.

At one point, he thought about going with them to get away from the situation but ultimately stayed. He then tried calling his father two times with no answer before calling 911 from inside the camper.

His father arrived on his motorcycle when he was starting CPR while still on the phone.

Sorum saw Juan Vasquez had a handgun in his pocket and said he was afraid that if Vasquez woke up when he was giving him CPR that he might be angry, so he threw the gun aside.

When asked by prosecutor John Gross if he had heard any smaller-caliber gunshots after Vasquez came back the second time, Sorum said he did not.

A different story

Estrada, when on the witness stand, said she had lived on the property in one of the trailers with Sorum at the time and knew Moreno through Rachel Vasquez.

The morning of Aug. 9 she was woken up by Rachel Vasquez, who needed a ride to see her children.

They went straight to the DHS visit, and she dropped Rachel off, while she went to visit someone at some apartments downtown. She said her friend was going to contact her when she was done. She ultimately picked her up at her apartment next to Kwik Trip on Front Street.

Estrada said they were on their way back to the farm when she started getting “nasty” messages from Moreno about shots fired on the farm. She said she let Rachel Vasquez respond to the messages while she drove.

When they got to the house, they didn’t see Sorum or Moreno right away but then they came out of the house, and they weren’t armed at that time. Each couple was talking when they heard a vehicle approach 20 to 30 minutes later.

Juan Vasquez and his daughter argued for a couple minutes in Spanish in front of the house before he got back in the vehicle and started to leave.

Estrada said they then heard the cocking of a gun and firing of three or four shots from behind the house. She didn’t see who it was, and the vehicle, a Honda CR-V, was at that time near where the driveway meets the dirt road.

She said Juan Vasquez got out of the vehicle and started shooting toward them, and she and Rachel Vasquez ran to the house and locked the door and then ran upstairs. She heard another gunshot before they saw Vasquez motion with his hand and then fall to the ground. She said she didn’t see anything in his hands when he fell.

She said her friend pulled her close to her and tried to protect her from what she had seen.

When they went outside and walked up to Juan Vasquez, there was blood coming out of him and his daughter started screaming.

Moreno told them to get into the truck and pointed a gun and said get in and drive.

He ultimately had her go through the ditch and directly onto the nearby Interstate 35, and once in Iowa ended up at a house in rural Northwood. She said she wasn’t sure if Moreno still had the rifle at that time.

Moreno stayed there, and she and Rachel Vasquez left and ended up at a house where she said they didn’t think Moreno would know how to get to.

Prosecutor John Gross asked Estrada why no information about Juan Vasquez shooting was in the initial interview with law enforcement, and she said it should have been and still stands by what she said on the stand.

Defense lawyer Andrew Leone asked if Estrada had used meth the day of the shooting. She said she had not used it that day but used it off and on at that time.

Who was with Juan Vasquez that day?

Marco Posada of Albert Lea said he met Juan Vasquez through mutual friends and purchased his methamphetamine from him. He also had met Moreno previously.

Though he acknowledged he used meth the day of the shooting, Posada said he remembers everything that happened from that day.

He said they went to Sorum’s property two times after Vasquez asked him if he would help him dump some trash there.

He had been at a house at 1201 Southview Lane, owned by Brian Frederickson, where he stayed much of the time. He hooked up the trailer to the Frederickson’s Honda CR-V, who often let him borrow the vehicle, and Posada drove while Vasquez sat in the passenger seat.

When they arrived at the property on 160th Street that first time, he was backing up the vehicle to disconnect the trailer when Vasquez told him to stop. Though they never saw anyone that time, Vasquez said he thought Moreno was there because he saw his dog.

Vasquez, who Posada said was furious and yelling, fired two shots in the air, and Posada told him he didn’t want problems so he needed to get back in the car and they left to go to Diamond Jo Casino.

He estimated they were at the casino for about 30 minutes when they went back to pick up the trailer.

When they pulled up, they saw a white F-150 and saw Estrada and Vasquez’s daughter near the porch of the house.

Posada said he put the car in reverse to hook up the trailer, and Vasquez and his daughter began arguing.

Posada stayed in the car and didn’t see anything in Vasquez’s hands.

He estimated they were arguing no more than 10 minutes and Rachel Vasquez had calmed down when Juan Vasquez came back to the CR-V and told him to pull up.

He hooked up the trailer to the CR-V and they dumped the trailer and gave an old lamp to Estrada and Rachel Vasquez.

They got back into the car and as they drove away, he heard Juan Vasquez tell his daughter he loved her. They drove down the driveway, and then shots started from behind them. The second shot hit the back windshield. He estimated there were four or five shots in total.

Posada said Juan Vasquez kept telling him to stop the car and at one point started opening the door on the gravel road and started to get out of the vehicle, before he walked up the gravel road to the driveway. He was furious, saying all kinds of things, Posada said, but didn’t see anything in Vasquez’s hands.

Posada stayed in the car on the gravel road and pulled up a little further so he could see Vasquez still, but then Vasquez went around the house and he couldn’t see him anymore.

He heard a gunshot and then there was silence. After that, he said he looked around and saw Moreno saying “I told you, I told you” from the corner of the house.

Posada waited for a brief time and then left and went back to the house on Southview Lane, where an Albert Lea police officer only a few minutes later arrived and was looking for Moreno.

He described the CR-V as “shot up” with both the back and front windshields shot and the two front tires flat.