Casias gets 12 years for killing wife

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A man who described himself as a "good husband and father" has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for shooting and killing his wife, Amber, in their Meadow Lake home in May 2011.

Brandon Casias, 21, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February, and was sentenced to prison by District Court Judge William Sanchez on Monday.

In exchange for entering into the plea agreement with the district attorney's office, two counts of child abuse were dismissed. If he had been convicted of all three counts, Casias could have been sentenced to 19 years behind bars.

The two child abuse counts stem from the fact that the couple's two young sons were present at the time of the shooting. They were in a different room than where the incident occurred.

Casias shot and killed his 20-year-old wife after he returned home from "drinking with his buddies," according to a Valencia County sheriff's report.

Casias told investigators he and his wife got into an argument and he drew his Glock handgun on Amber, knowing there was a live round in the chamber.

He told investigators that he pointed the gun at his wife, and she reached out to push it out of her face. He pulled the gun back, at which time the weapon discharged, striking Amber in her right cheek.

She was later pronounced dead at an Albuquerque hospital.

During his sentencing hearing, a sobbing Casias asked the judge for leniency, saying that the incident was an accident, and that he never meant to hurt his wife.

"Your honor, I assumed the gun was not loaded," Casias said as he sat in an orange county jail jumpsuit reading from a prepared statement. "I cry myself to sleep every night."

Casias told the judge he watched his wife bleed to death as he waited for help.

"I love my wife more than anyone can understand," he said. "I wish I could go back and change what happened, but I can't. I'm going to have to explain to my children why their mother isn't here."

Still maintaining the shooting was an accident, Casias said his children still need their father. He also told the judge he has found the Lord while in jail, and wants to help people learn from his mistakes.

"I was an alcoholic, but I was never a bad husband and father," he said. "I just want my children to know their father.

"I lost my wife. I lost my kids," Casias said. "I ask you, your honor, to have mercy because I'm a good person. I'm not a murderer, I'm not a criminal. I just want to be a father again."

Amber's mother, Judy Lundstrum, said her daughter "loved this boy with all her heart," and that she lived to protect him and she died protecting him.

"No matter what you guys do today, I'll never get my daughter back," Lundstrum told Sanchez. "I just want justice for my baby."

Mark Rosenfield, Casias' defense attorney, said even though his client pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, he believes the charge should have been manslaughter.

"This is kind of an unusual case," Rosenfield said. "It was a tragedy."

The attorney told the judge that Casias did point the gun at Amber, but shooting and killing her was an "unintentional act."

Rosenfield said Casias has been working since he was 15 years old, most recently at the Walmart Distribution Center in Los Lunas. He said his client doesn't have a criminal record.

Casias' father, Manuel Baldonado, told the judge his son has "always been a good kid with lots of friends." He pleaded with Sanchez to look in his son's eyes and see the remorse for what he's done.

"He's loved Amber since he was 14 years old," Baldonado said. "He is a very skilled carpenter, and he always made his mother and I very proud.

"Brandon has always done what a father should do — he took care of his family," he said. "We all deserve a second chance in life."

After speaking, Casias' father asked Sanchez if he could give his son a hug. The county jail guard at the hearing shook is head back and forth, indicating it was not allowed.

Casias' brother, Matthew Baldonado, also spoke in support, saying he has "always been a good man."

After the families were allowed to give their statements to the judge, Assistant District Attorney Bryan McKay said that while he understands Casias is remorseful, he was still concerned with the fact that the defendant now says that the incident was an accident.

"It wasn't an accident," McKay said. "An accident is if he put the gun down on a table and it accidently went off. He (Casias) told the officers at least twice that night that he knew there was a live round in the chamber.

"Maybe this was the first time it happened, but to put a loaded gun in the face of the person you love? It was not an accident."

McKay also pointed out to the judge that Casias had admitted to investigators that he had previously pointed a gun at Amber while arguing.

"I don't doubt you have regrets," Judge Sanchez told Casias before handing down his sentence. "Your actions are disturbing. The fact that you were waving a gun around and pointing it at Amber's face with the children in the house is very disturbing."

Sanchez said for the court to impose anything other than 12 years would be sending the wrong message to the public at large.

"I do find it commendable that you're taking responsibilities for your actions," Sanchez said. "But part of taking responsibility, is you have to accept the punishment."

After the hearing, Lundstrum said she can accept the sentencing, but will never understand why "such a beautiful young woman had to die."

Two years after Amber was killed, Lundstrum has since taken custody of her two grandsons, now ages 2 and 4, who had been in the custody of the Children, Youth and Families Department since their mother was killed.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.