First District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer today sentenced Judah Trujillo to 25 years in prison for the August 2022 slaying of Samuel Cordero, a caretaker at MorningStar Assisted Living.
Last year, a jury found Trujillo, 17, guilty of first-degree murder and evidence tampering after prosecutors argued that as a 15-year-old he agreed to meet Cordero, 60, via the Grindr app for a sexual encounter and later fatally shot him at Ragle Park. Investigators linked Trujillo to the killing using cellphone data that placed both parties at the crime scene, as well as surveillance videos that demonstrated an audible gunshot and showed Trujillo return to a nearby home after the incident. Investigators also connected a bullet casing at the scene to the gun found at the home and recovered Cordero’s phone, which Trujillo admits he removed from the crime scene before tossing it along Rodeo Road.
Trujillo, who has been incarcerated at the San Juan County Juvenile Services Center in Farmington since his arrest more than a month after the shooting, testified in his own defense during the trial, arguing that he changed his mind about engaging in sex with Cordero and the two had an altercation. He claimed to have shot the gun over his shoulder as he tried to get away. Physical evidence showed the bullet entered the back of Cordero’s head before exiting through his forehead.
In her arguments recommending life in prison for the murder charge plus three years for tampering with evidence for Trujillo, Jeanine Salustri, assistant district attorney for the First Judicial District, cited rap lyrics written in a notes app on Trujillo’s phone days after the incident.
“Hollows in chrome; I could dig your ass a grave 6 ft in the ground / They all know my name when I’m riding thru my town. / Bitch I’m sippin purple drank; we screaming murder mane / I love to murder thangs, I love to murder thangs,” Salustri read aloud in the courtroom from phone screenshots projected on a screen.
The prosecuting attorney also noted a Soundcloud account not owned by the teen with a song called “Free Swavioo” that used Trujillo’s booking photo as the cover art and in which news reports on the case are heard in the introduction. Salustri argued the lyrics and the song showed the teen killed Cordero “for no good reason at all,” except perhaps for notoriety among his peers. If the court handed down the maximum life sentence, she said, the teen would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years because of his status as a serious youthful offender.
“That’s more time than Samuel Cordero will have,” Salustri said. “He didn’t get a second chance.”
Trujillo remained mostly stoic, but issued a short statement of apology at the end of the hearing.
“I know I can’t change what happened that night, but if I could I would. I’m sorry about what happened, and I hope you know I mean this from the bottom of my heart,” Trujillo said. “I didn’t go with the intent to take a life, I did not ask for that song to be posted about me, I did not do this for attention, and I’m sorry…I know what I did is wrong.”
Defense Attorney Jerry Archuleta maintained at the sentencing hearing that Trujillo had acted in self-defense, asking the judge to impose a term of less than 15 years with five years probation; allow Trujillo to stay in child youth and family custody until 21; and receive credit for the time he already served.
“The issue is some of the facts the state and the police have failed to acknowledge. Sam Cordero was a child predator, and he went to the park that night to statutory rape Judah,” he said, claiming Cordero had communicated with underage boys on his Facebook page. “What the state wants to believe and what the facts are are two different things.”
Furthermore, Archuleta argued the sentencing should account for the fact that Trujillo has “tight knit and supportive” familial relationships; has done well in school since being in custody—three As and one B; and has had no “behavioral issues” since his arrest, all indications this won’t happen again.
“He was exploring his sexual identity, and he was meeting with a large man. He had no intent of using the gun—he had taken it for his protection,” Archuleta said. “Judah is not a gang member, Judah is not a drug addict, Judah will not reoffend, and that is something that should be taken into consideration.”
Yvonne Harvey, Cordero’s mom, had planned to testify in the hearing, Salustri said, but instead wrote a letter to the judge detailing how she’s struggled to make ends meet, has been prescribed medication for depression and became “a recluse” following the murder.
“I have been living a nightmare I never wake up from since the murder of my son Samuel Cordero…There is not a day that goes by that Sam is not in our thoughts and we have to relive the grief and horror of how he was killed over and over,” Salustri read from the letter Harvey wrote, who noted Cordero also helped her care for his siblings when they were young so she could work. “Now I sit and look at an empty seat across the room from me…Samuel’s murder has created a large void in our family structure.”
Marlowe Sommer noted the defense continually engaged in “victim blaming” throughout the trial, and said that due to his “lack of remorse,” she would not spare Trujillo.
“The facts don’t support [the defense’s] version of events, especially the way the victim was murdered. This was premeditated,” Sommer said. “I’m sorry both families are going through this, but this was a teen that clearly fooled his family or they weren’t watching because he had carte blanche of his life…Today, he’s very remorseful, and I think that remorse has a lot to do with him not knowing what the court will do to him today.”
Sommer did not credit Trujillo with time served and ordered him to adult detention, but noted he could be eligible to complete just 85% of his sentence due to the crime being a “serious violent offense.”
Trujillo’s mother, Rachel Martinez, faces charges in a separate criminal case alleging she helped him discard Cordero’s phone following the shooting.