Murder of Darrell Lunsford

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Darrell Edward Lunsford, Sr.
Born Darrell Edward Lunsford
(1943-10-20)October 20, 1943
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Died January 23, 1991(1991-01-23) (aged 47)
Garrison, Texas, U.S.
Body discovered
January 23, 1991
Nationality American
Occupation Constable

Darrell Edward Lunsford, Sr. (October 20, 1943 – January 23, 1991)[1] was a constable of Nacogdoches County, Texas.[2] On January 23, 1991, Lunsford pulled over a vehicle with three men inside, who were transporting marijuana. Lunsford grew suspicious of the suspects and requested to see what was inside the trunk of the vehicle. When Lunsford saw the marijuana, the suspects attacked Lunsford, then shot and killed him with his own sidearm. They then drove off, leaving Lunsford and his patrol car behind. The entire incident was videotaped on a dashboard camera in Lunford's cruiser. The three suspects were later found and convicted for the murder.[3]

The murder[edit]

In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, January 23, 1991, at approximately 1:20 a.m., Constable Darrell Lunsford pulled over a suspicious vehicle, a white 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with Maine license plates.[4] Inside the vehicle were three men: Baldemar Sambrano Villarreal, his younger half brother, Reynaldo Sambrano Villarreal, and their accomplice, Jesus Zambrano. The three of them had loaded the car with 31 pounds of marijuana, and were driving from Houston, Texas, to Chicago, where they planned to sell it all.

Lunsford pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and questioned the driver, Reynaldo Villarreal. He asked whether he had any ID on him, to which Villarreal replied no. He claimed that he had a driver's license but did not have it on him. He also said that he was helping his brother, Baldemar, drive the car (one of two passengers in the vehicle). At 1:27 a.m., Lunsford asked to look in the trunk of the vehicle and the men reluctantly agreed. Lunsford and Reynaldo opened the trunk and Lunsford could immediately smell the scent of marijuana.

At 1:28 a.m., Baldemar, despite being told not to, got out of the vehicle and stood with Reynaldo speaking to Lunsford. Suddenly, Baldemar grabbed Lunsford by his legs while Reynaldo grabbed him from behind. They forced Lunsford down onto the ground by the side of the car and the third suspect, Jesus Zambrano, got out to assist his two partners in crime. They then carried out a "prison takedown" on Lunsford and continued to beat and kick him while he was pinned down on the ground. They rolled him over onto his stomach, kicked him in the hip three times, stabbed him repeatedly with a knife and then grabbed his own handgun.

Baldemar then shot Lunsford in the neck with the handgun, severing his spinal cord and killed him instantly. Moments afterwards, the suspects moved the dead body of Lunsford into a nearby ditch. The three suspects then made a quick getaway in their vehicle, leaving behind the dead body of Lunsford and his police cruiser.[5]

Aftermath[edit]

Just minutes before the murder, Sheriff's Deputy Don Welch had driven by and spotted Lunsford speaking to the men. Moments after the murder, Welch witnessed the suspects speed past him in their vehicle. Welch immediately drove back to the spot where Lunsford had been and found his dead body. Welch radioed for help, and at around 2:00 a.m., Chief Deputy Stanaland, another colleague of Lunsford, found them both. Stanaland noticed the video camera in Lunsford's cruiser. He rewound the video, watched it over and then made a copy of it.[6] The three suspects, realizing Welch had spotted them, abandoned their vehicle less than a mile from the town of Garrison. They then fled on foot, taking the marijuana with them. Their vehicle was found later in the day.

Throughout the morning, the police analysed the videotape and were able to identify the three killers. Reynaldo Villarreal was found later in the day when a highway patrolman spotted him walking near the edge of a wooded area. He was arrested and charged with murder. Baldemar Villarreal was captured and arrested two days later and Jesus Zambrano was captured at a later date. All three suspects were then tried and convicted with Lunsford's murder.

The actual shooter who had fired the gun and murdered Lunsford was identified as Baldemar Sambrano Villarreal. He was spared the death penalty but was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His younger half brother, Reynaldo Sambrano Villarreal, was sentenced to forty years in prison for his role in the murder. The third suspect, Jesus Zambrano, pleaded guilty to his role in the murder and received a thirty year prison sentence.[7]

The entire incident was captured by the dashboard camera in Lunsford's cruiser. This videotape enabled the police to arrest the three killers. The video is now used when training new officers. The videotape teaches them what to do if they ever get into a difficult situation like this.[8] Lunsford is survived by his wife and two children.

Effects of the video[edit]

Trooper Andy Lopez, Jr. was a police officer from Refugio, Texas who watched the video of Lunsford's murder. 8 months later, on September 21, 1991, Lopez pulled over a suspicious vehicle along U.S Highway 77 in Refugio, Texas.[9] Similar to the events surrounding Lunsford's murder, three male suspects were transporting marijuana.[10] While they initially allowed Lopez to inspect the trunk, one of the suspects drew a handgun and attempted to fire on Lopez.[11]

Lopez was able to react quickly to the assailant, knocking him off balance while drawing his own weapon, then firing and taking cover. The armed suspect was wounded, while the two remaining suspects fled on foot under cover of darkness. The armed suspect again began to fire at Lopez, who used strategic cover and motion while returning fire. Another trooper, then south of Lopez, responded to his call for backup. The armed suspect died from multiple gunshot wounds before help arrived. Lopez had not been severely injured, having been grazed only once.

A manhunt for the other two suspects was conducted throughout the night and into the next day, when police located the two remaining suspects, who had been hiding in the woods; they were arrested without incident. The shootout between Lopez and the gunman had been videotaped by a camera in Lopez's cruiser. After the incident, Lopez told authorities that he believed the video of Lunsford's murder is what had saved his life that night. The video had helped him deal with the three suspects and he had learned not to make the same mistakes that Lunsford had made eight months earlier.[12]

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