Durham News

Teen shooter sentenced in fatal Durham carjacking

“He was everything to us. He was our brother, our father, our counselor, our friend,” Francisco Villatoro said, speaking in Spanish with a court interpreter.
“He was everything to us. He was our brother, our father, our counselor, our friend,” Francisco Villatoro said, speaking in Spanish with a court interpreter. jalexander@newsobserver.com

The third teenager charged in a 2012 carjacking and murder in Durham was sentenced to 29 to 38 years in prison Thursday for shooting a man so he and two friends could steal his SUV.

Justino Navaretta Maya, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Dec. 28, 2012 death of Johnny Danilo Villatoro, 35, the father of three.

He also pleaded guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

As a condition of his plea bargain, Maya also pleaded guilty to a breaking and entering and larceny in Orange County. At the time Villatoro was killed, Maya was on pretrial release for those charges.

Sitting beside his attorney, Fred Williams, Maya answered questions from Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan in a quiet voice, showing no emotion. In contrast, one of Villatoro’s three siblings in the courtroom sat with his face in his hands and made occasional sobs.

“Why couldn't (the killers) think that he had a family that needed him?” Jose Villatoro said, speaking in Spanish with a court interpreter. “He was trying to do a good thing and ended up bad.”

Maya was accused of shooting Villatoro seven times, including shots fired from above when Villatoro was lying on his back, according to prosecutor Jim Dornfried.

One of the other teens, Diana Escobar, who was 14 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty in March to the same charges as Maya and will spend 10 to 13 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled in May.

The third, 12 at the time of the killing, has already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in juvenile court. She is being held in a juvenile-detention facility until she is 21, he said. Police do not release the names of juvenile defendants.

According to Dornfried’s account, the 12-year-old was the instigator of the crime. About a week before Villatoro’s death, she had run away from home in Raleigh and came to stay in a Durham apartment on Channing Court in Bragtown, off North Roxboro Street.

There, she met Maya and the two became romantically involved, Dornfried said. On Dec. 28, they and Escobar discussed doing a drive-by shooting of an unspecified gang. Since they had no vehicle, they planned to carjack one and kill the driver.

They encountered Villatoro at a cellphone store where he had gone to pay his bill and asked him for a ride home. He agreed, and they directed him to a dark cul-de-sac where Maya, pulling a handgun a vacationing neighbor had left him for safekeeping, ordered Villatoro out of the car.

“It’s unclear what occurred,” Dornfried said, but it appears that Villatoro scuffled with the 12-year-old before he was shot and left lying on the street after Maya drove over his arm.

After returning to Channing Court, he said, Maya and Escobar were unwilling to go through with the drive-by shooting. The 12-year-old took the handgun and accidentally shot herself. Wounded, she called her mother to get an ambulance, but asked her not to call police.

The mother called police anyway and the trio was quickly linked to Villatoro’s death.

‘Everything to us’

Villatoro was a native of Honduras who had lived in Durham for 18 years, his brother Francisco said, through the interpreter. He was the oldest of 11 brothers and sisters and the first to move to the United States.

“In this country, he was everything to us. He was our brother, our father, our counselor, our friend,” Francisco Villatoro said. “We have lost everything that he worked for for 18 years.”

After sentencing, Maya stood and faced the Villatoros to offer an apology and ask for their forgiveness. But Marlene Villatoro, a sister, had already said through the interpreter that that “is not enough.”

“His asking forgiveness will not return my brother ever. (Maya) should have thought about that when he shot him. ...

“(Maya’s) mother will have the opportunity to go see him in prison, but we won’t have that opportunity.”

Williams, Maya’s attorney, said he thinks Maya fired to protect his girlfriend when she scuffled with Villatoro. Bits of her hair were found in Villatoro’s hand, suggesting a struggle.

“I do not think that this man, young boy, intentionally killed that man,” Williams said after the hearing, and called the case a tragedy for both the Villatoro and Maya families. He also said he hopes the prison system will provide opportunities for Maya to improve himself.

“We’re putting somebody away who’s going to be in prison for this long (time), but eventually he’s going to get out,” Williams said. “If our system doesn't have a way to help that person become a better person then we’ve got a bigger problem when he gets out.”