Moreno sentenced to almost 40 years in shooting death, attempted murder

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, May 30, 2024

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A Freeborn County District Court judge on Thursday sentenced an Albert Lea man to a combined almost 40 years in prison for the shooting death of Juan Vasquez Jr. and the attempted murder of Marco Posada in August 2022 south of Albert Lea.

Before he was sentenced, Ben Moreno, 33, apologized to Vasquez’s family and his own family and said drugs were a big factor at the time of the shooting. He said he wanted to try to help other people get off drugs before they got into a situation like he did.

A jury in March found Moreno, 33, guilty of all five counts against him, including two counts of second-degree murder in Vasquez’ death, one count of attempted second-degree murder of Posada and two counts of ineligible possession of a firearm for the two guns used in the crime.

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District Court Judge Christy Hormann said while she did not doubt that Moreno was remorseful, she said what happened was avoidable and Moreno could have taken steps to avoid the outcome of that day.

She said the case would have long-lasting effects, not only on those directly involved in the case but also all of the families as well.

“It all could have been avoided …” Hormann said, noting that all of the decisions Moreno made the day of the shooting were deliberate. “You had other options, and you chose not to do that.”

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. Moreno was at the property to get help on his vehicle from another man who lived there.

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 the other man 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 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 once at the property Vasquez got out of the Honda CR-V he and Posada were riding in and got into an argument with his daughter who had come back to the property with another woman while Vasquez and Posada were at the casino.

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 the other man and ultimately shot Vasquez in the chest.

Hormann said Moreno could have called police the first time Vasquez came to the property or he could have even left the property.

When considering whether to sentence the first count of second-degree murder and the third count of second-degree attempted murder for Posada, Hormann said she had to consider the number of victims and whether sentencing consecutively would unfairly exaggerate Moreno’s conduct.

She said she thought consecutive sentencing was appropriate.

She sentenced Moreno to 306 months for the first count and 173 months for the third count — to be spent consecutively. He got credit for 659 days already spent in jail to be used toward the third count.

No adjudication was given for the second count of second-degree murder in the shooting of Vasquez.

Hormann also sentenced Moreno to 60 months in prison for the two ineligible possession of a firearm charges, which will be spent concurrently as the other prison terms.

Two-thirds of the sentence will be spent in prison with the remaining one-third on supervised release.

Hormann encouraged Moreno to use his time in prison productively and told him he had a choice whether to use this bad situation and turn it into a positive one where he can move forward and eventually help others in the future.

Moreno’s lawyer Andrew Leone argued that all the counts be served concurrently instead of consecutively, while Assistant Minnesota Attorney General John Gross argued for consecutive sentences and top-of-the-box sentencing — for a combined 574 months.

Posada, in a statement read aloud by Gross, said he went into a deep depression after the shooting and talked about how much the incident had affected his life. He said he moved back to Iowa with his loved ones, had to install cameras on his home and didn’t want to leave home. He even lost his job at one point because he didn’t want to leave his family alone.

Posada said while he forgave Moreno for all the things he tried to do to him, justice needed to be served.

One of Vasquez’s daughters, as well as his ex-wife, talked about how Vasquez’s death has led to mental health struggles. Though Vasquez had not been a part of most of the children’s lives, before his death they were strengthening their relationships and would now never be able to continue repairing them.