ALAMOSA — Telling the judge, “I see better now with one eye than I ever did with two,” Cristo Esquibel, 37, said he hoped his appearance for sentencing in court on Thursday would his last.
“This has really opened my eyes a lot,” he said.
On Thursday, District Judge Michael Gonzales sentenced Esquibel to seven years in prison on a felony conspiracy to commit first-degree assault charge to which Esquibel pleaded guilty this fall in connection with his role in the June 2016 death of Dale Floyd McBride, 52. Esquibel lost an eye when a bullet fragment that hit McBride ricocheted into his face. Lonnie Cooper admitted to being the one who shot McBride, who subsequently died from the injury.
Referring to text messages the morning of the shooting, Assistant District Attorney Ashley McCuaig told the judge that Esquibel was instrumental in helping Cooper locate and fatally assault McBride, which appeared to be retaliation for McBride stabbing one of Cooper’s sons.
“Mr. Esquibel’s role is not one of a passive bystander who was looking for a ride home,” McCuaig said, or someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as was the case of other codefendants in the McBride case. McCuaig added that Esquibel was not as culpable as Cooper, as he did not fire the bullet that took out his eye, but if not for his part, McBride might be alive.
“Yes, Lonnie Cooper pulled the trigger, but Cristo Esquibel got him there,” McCuaig said.
“He lost an eye as a result of his act, but Mr. McBride lost his life. When you talk about an eye for an eye, this is much more significant than that.”
He recommended seven years in the Department of Corrections, which is the top end of the range for the charge to which Esquibel pleaded guilty.
“That is the only sentence that seems appropriate that setting up someone to be murdered will not be tolerated,” McCuaig said.
Esquibel’s attorney on two less serious cases for which he was sentenced on Thursday, Deputy State Public Defender James Valenti said in his meetings with Esquibel, he came to believe that he had a good heart but struggled with a bad drug addiction for a long time and got involved with the wrong people. He added that Esquibel had a very supportive family.
Donald Cutler, Esquibel’s attorney on the charge related to McBride, said Esquibel’s role in the incident was not as clear or straightforward as McCuaig had stated. He said Esquibel initially came over to Alamosa from Monte Vista the morning of the incident out of concern for a friend. He then went to the place where McBride was ultimately shot, not because he was there to help find or assault him, but because that was the residence where people went to get high, and Esquibel was an addict, as were most of the people involved in this case. He was there when McBride arrived and did his best to protect others who were at the house and to stop the altercation between Cooper and McBride, Cutler said. He lost an eye for his efforts to intervene, Cutler added.
Cutler said Esquibel has suffered from addiction for years and has a lengthy record, dating back to when he was a juvenile. McCuaig had said that Esquibel has about as many convictions as the number of years he’s been alive.
Cutler asked for a five-year prison sentence instead of seven.
Judge Gonzales sentenced Esquibel to seven years on the charge related to the McBride case and a year on his other cases.
The judge told Esquibel that he had observed his demeanor in court, and he had always been respectful. However, drugs had destroyed his life, and he has been in trouble so many times that he is no longer eligible for probation, nor is community corrections appropriate. The judge said he had to consider Esquibel’s extensive criminal history when he imposed his sentence, and that was a big factor for him.
“You have a horrible criminal record,” the judge told Esquibel. Many of his prior convictions landed him in prison, the judge pointed out. The judge said a lot of that had to do with the people like the Coopers that he had chosen to associate with, rather than the family that loved him.
“You’ve got eight kids, for God’s sake eight,” Judge Gonzales told Esquibel. “You shouldn’t be in prison. You should be out there taking care of those kids.”
He said when Esquibel was spending the majority of his life in prison, he was not being a good father and was missing out on his children’s lives.