December 23, 2019 | By Andrew McDonald
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Every year, the smell of Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, and red beans wafts throughout the Lucero household in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With the family gathered to eat at the table, there remains one seat empty – just as it has been for the last six years – ever since Michael Sanchez was brutally murdered outside a local gas station.
After spending a year working in car-detailing, 27-year-old Michael Sanchez was on his way to his first day of work as manager at a local car lot. At 8:10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 13, 2013, Michael stopped for gas at a Valero station.
Ricardo Villanueva-Cordova, Michael’s neighbor, pulled up next to the car, pinned Michael down on the ground, and stabbed him 29 times.
Sanchez was rushed to the hospital but died on the operating table two hours after the attack.
Villanueva-Cordova has been missing since that day and has never been charged in the case.
Lisa Lucero recalled how she first received the news of the loss of her nephew.
“Michael’s father came into the house around 5 p.m. I heard loud screams downstairs and my son Isaac was crying,” Lucero said. “My husband was on his knees, face buried in hands. Then I knew something terrible had happened.”
Michael was born in Albuquerque and was very close with his mother. she had divorced Michael’s father when she was eight months pregnant, so Michael was raised by single mother.
When he wasn’t with his mother, Michael spent time at Lucero’s house and had a close relationship with his cousins. Lucero talks about how we loved sports and could eat like no one else.
“When Michael was growing up, I found him hiding in the pantry and later on, I’d wash his clothes and his pockets were filled with cookies and candies,” Lucero recalled.
At the age of sixteen, Michael lost his mother to cancer and fell into a bad year. Lucero and her family took him in and found a way for him to get on the right path with sports. “Michael played baseball, football, basketball, and boxed,” Lucero said. “Of all sports, boxing was what he excelled in. It was a way of him expressing himself, and most of our male children were in boxing.”
Sanchez received his GED and began to work in the car industry selling vehicles. Michael explored different areas of working in the automobile industry. He detailed cars and then eventually received the promotion to manager.
In the weeks before he was murdered, Michael was having problems with his neighbor,Villanueva-Cordova, and Villanueva-Cordova’s little dog. Michael said the dog barked excessively and would run free throughout the mobile home park.
“The dog bit (Michael) three times. It would stay under his trailer and attack him in his own yard,” Lucero said.
Sanchez filed two reports with animal control. The first report gave a warning to his neighbor, and the second report fined Villanueva-Cordova and had him take a class on being a better pet owner.
The day of Sanchez’s murder, Michael went over to Villanueva-Cordova’s house to talk about how the dog’s barking kept him up the night before he started his new position.
When Michael left for work, Villanueva-Cordova followed him and confronted him at the gas station. After stabbing Michael, according to witnesses, he hopped in his car and drove off.
About a year after the murder, a Bernalillo County grant jury indicted Villanueva-Cordova on first-degree murder charges. A warrant for his arrest had already been issued.
Despite a massive effort on social media, local television, and even the Investigation Discovery show In Pursuit with John Walsh, Villanueva-Cordova remains free and on the run. Prosecutors believe he fled to Mexico.
Through tears, Lucero said that she still misses Michael every day.
“His hugs and kisses. He used to hug me and tell me how much he loved me,” she recalled. “We were blessed that we were able to share time with him and the love we shared with him.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Michael Sanchez, particularly the whereabouts of Ricardo Villanueva-Cordova, please call the Albuquerque Police Department at 505-768-2200
Research & Impact
Homicide survivors, on average, report negative interactions with the media following coverage of their loved one’s homicide. The relationship with the media tasked to report and engage with the surviving victims of homicide reveal a complex pattern, seemingly void of victim sensitivity for trending “newsworthy” coverage.
While there are various factors associated with what and why a story will be “newsworthy,” (i.e. race and gender of the victim), the criteria almost always include violence and distortion of details throughout distribution of the story. This phenomenon allows viewers to “vicariously experience pain and victimization,” although temporarily (Peelo, 2006; Walklate and Petrie, 2013).
Project: Cold Case has, on occasion, worked with families in the unique circumstance as the Sanchez family. The extreme situation where there is an identified suspect, however, due to fleeing, law enforcement has not been able to initiate the judicial process. This can prolong and delay the forward movement in both grief and progress for the survivors.
For those families, interaction with the media is vitally important for awareness in their loved one’s case. Families want to feel empowered to engage with the media without wondering if their message will be misrepresented. Growing recognition in how media engage and interact with victims has sparked reform while redefining ethical guidelines for those tasked with covering crimes and events in effort to reduce added trauma.
For cold case homicide survivors, the need for partnership with the media all but guarantees a consistent platform for information exchange and awareness for the cause.
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