Skip to Content

Watch: Jury reaches guilty verdicts in Doña Ana County ‘murder for hire’ trial

UPDATE: The jury found Cristal Cardenas guilty on count 1, first-degree murder by deliberate killing. Cardenas was found not guilty on a second count of first-degree murder by deliberate killing. The jury also reached guilty verdicts on the last two counts, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder by deliberate killing, and criminal solicitation.

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - A Doña Ana County jury is expected to deliver a verdict on Friday on the fifth and final day of the 'murder for hire' trial.

In March 2018, authorities arrested Cristal Cardenas, 29, and her boyfriend, Luis Flores, 30. The suspects were charged with the shooting deaths of Mario Cabral, then 34, and his new girlfriend, Vanessa Mora, who was 32. Cabral and Mora were found shot to death in their Garfield trailer home.

Authorities accuse Cardenas of hiring a hitman to kill Cabral over a custody dispute. The two shared a daughter and at one time, they both lived in a $1 million home that Cabral owned. According to documents obtained by ABC-7 in 2018, authorities knew about the 'murder for hire' plot one month before Cabral's and Mora's deaths.

The victims and suspects in the 'murder for hire' trial in Doña Ana County.

TUESDAY: After jury selection on Monday, day two of the trial on Tuesday began with opening arguments. Prosecutors argued that Cardenas wanted her ex-boyfriend dead as the custody battle intensified over their daughter.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is cold blooded murder," said Arif Abrar, the lead prosecutor on the case. "Nothing short of that."

"Where’s the DNA?" asked defense attorney Todd Holmes. "If she loaded bullets into the kit, the evidence will show you that. Nothing comes back on Cristal.”

Edward Alonso also testified that Cardenas hired him to kill Cabral for $10,000. He said they agreed to $5,000 before the hit and $5,000 after, but that she only paid him $3,000. Because she was short in payment, he said he decided to turn her in to federal authorities. Alonso was in custody during the time of the homicides.

“She had told me that if I wasn’t able to finish the job or if it wasn’t able to get done when it was going to be done, Luis would take care of it," Alonso said.

“It was considered what we call a murder for hire," said retired FBI Agent George Dougherty.

Dougherty testified that Alonso approached him about the plot. He said they approached Cabral to warn him, but that Cabral said he didn't need security. Within a month, he and his new girlfriend were found dead.

“I heard my mom scream," said Stephanie Diaz, who discovered her mother's and Cabral's bodies the following morning. "My mom was on the couch bleeding from my nose. I was like, “Mom, wake up!” She didn’t wake up.”

WEDNESDAY: On day three of the trial, forensic pathologist Dr. Emily Helmrich testified that Cabral was shot 12 times and Mora was shot three times.

"The gunshot wounds involved his head, his left arm, his right arm, abdomen, back, and right and left thighs," Dr. Helmrich said.

Prosecutors would later argue that because Cabral was shot three times in the groin, one may assume the person behind the gun was the new love interest of Cardenas. They suspect Luis Flores was the shooter.

"The guy's dying, but let's make sure his penis doesn't work, right?" Abrar said. "Shoot him there. Multiple times. There could be some personal motivation to that."

Lt. Frank Angel with the Hatch Police Department testified that he saw the broken glass from the trailer and footprints surrounding the trailer, but no DNA was tied to Cardenas or Flores.

THURSDAY: On day four of the trail, Cardenas took the stand, denying that she had any role in the violence that led to the deaths of her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. She denied committing the murders or knowing the would-be hitman.

"I was shocked," Cardenas said she felt after learning about the murders. "I said, 'That's my daughter's father.' I had a relationship with him.

When her defense attorney asked if she had the motivation or desire to kill either of the victims, she said no. She said she started crying upon learning of the deaths.

Cardenas is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder with deliberate intent and one count of criminal solicitation.

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is a former ABC-7 New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and weekend evening newscast anchor.


KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content