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Teen convicted of second-degree murder in Lincoln Park shooting sentenced to 25–35 years; driver receives 5–7 years

On Friday, the court sentenced 18-year-old Johnny Munoz, who was found guilty of shooting and killing 15-year-old BayLee Carabajal-Clark in April 2023.

City/County Building (Lisa Hushbeck/Cap City News)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — For several families in Cheyenne, Friday was an emotional day as the state handed down sentences to two teens found guilty in the April 2023 shooting and subsequent death of a 15-year-old girl.

Laramie County District Court sentenced Johnny Munoz, 18, and Julian Espinoza, 17, both of whom were convicted in a drive-by shooting on April 29 at Lincoln Park that left 15-year-old BayLee Carabajal-Clark dead.

In early December, the court found Munoz guilty of second-degree murder after he fired a gun four times into the park’s basketball court from the passenger seat of an SUV. Espinoza, the vehicle’s driver, accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors on Dec. 6 to the crime of accessory before the fact to involuntary manslaughter. As part of agreeing to plead guilty, Espinoza accepted a prison sentence of five to seven years.

Under Wyoming statute, second-degree murder is punishable by no less than 20 years to a maximum life term in prison.

Following statements from victims and attorneys, District Court Judge Catherine Rogers imposed Munoz with a mandatory prison sentence of 25–35 years. For Espinoza, Rogers upheld to conditions laid out in his plea agreement.

Victim statements

More than 60 people from the Carabajal, Clark, Vigil and Espinoza families packed the aisles awaiting the fates of the two teens at 9 a.m. Friday. To begin the proceedings, Laramie County Assistant District Attorney William Edelman invited three victims to the podium to provide statements before sentencing began.

The first to speak was Carrieann Vigil, BayLee Carabajal-Clark’s parental figure.

“BayLee was just a wonderful girl, she was really happy,” Vigil said, “and not having her around has been really hard. … It’s just like, how did we get here?”

MyLee Clark, BayLee’s twin sister, was the second speaker to provide impassioned statements. She said that not having her sister around has been challenging for her.

“I don’t feel like these boys hurt anyone else but me the most,” MyLee said, speaking over tears. “There’s no words to express the way I feel about this whole situation.”

The final speaker was Carrieann Vigil’s daughter, Serina. While standing at the podium, she turned to Munoz and Espinoza, stating she forgives them and hopes one day “you guys can make it out and fulfill your lives.”

“We did everything together,” Serina said about BayLee and herself. “We shared a room, and now when I look over to that room, it’s dark. And nobody’s there.”

Statements from the defense and prosecution

Following the victims’ statements, attention turned to Patricia Bennett, who served as one of Munoz’s defense attorneys. Bennett laid out her case to court as to how to handle Munoz’s sentencing. She stated that her intent is to minimize the impact on victims while also considering “what we want as a society from this [situation].”

“Nothing here today will take away what these families are suffering,” Bennett said.

The defense attorney advised the court to consider several components prior to sentencing, including brain development. Munoz, who was 17 years of age at the time of the crime, is still young and does not have a fully developed brain, which factored into his poor decision-making. Furthermore, Munoz does not have a prior criminal record and was an active member of his school football team, Bennett said. She added that Munoz has been continuing work to graduate high school on time during his past year of incarceration.

As far as punishment, Bennett wants the court to focus on rehabilitation.

“We have to look at him now,” but the court must also “look at the Johnny Munoz that will come back into this community” years down the line, Bennett said. She wants Munoz to return from his prison term better than he was before and not commit another crime. “You have to give him some hope. Otherwise, he won’t have any motivation to do anything,” she said.

Considering these factors, Bennett recommended that the court sentence Munoz to 20–25 years in prison, as well as admit him into the Youthful Offender Program and Adult Community Corrections program.

“I don’t want anyone to think he isn’t being punished, but we have to look to the future,” Bennett said.

Munoz himself then took to the podium with a pre-written statement.

“I am truly sorry for my actions that caused another person to lose their life,” Munoz said. He continued, saying that everyone makes mistakes and that some are bigger than others. He regrets the mistake that resulted in another person losing their life. “I just hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” Munoz concluded, turning his head to the victims’ side of the room.

After Munoz sat back down, Edelman provided his sentencing suggestions to the court. He did not believe Munoz is a suitable candidate for the Youthful Offender Program considering the severity of the crime. He also said that Munoz will require significant supervision upon his release. A prison term of 20–50 years would be an appropriate prison sentence, Edelman argued.

Espinoza’s defense attorney, Marci Linde, provided statements regarding her client’s character and recommended punishment, too. She mentioned the fact that Espinoza has a close relationship with his mom and has a strong personal support system. She met Espinoza and his family at their home while he was out on bond, describing their home as a “warm” and “loving” space.

“He knows how to engage with people, even adults,” Linde said.

As far as sentencing, Linde, like Bennett, urged the court to consider the fact that Espinoza was 16 years old at the time of the crime and therefore possessed poor behavior and impulse control. She and Edelman then recommended the five- to seven-year sentence they each agreed on in the plea agreement. In addition, Linde recommended Espinoza to the Youthful Offender program.

Espinoza provided a statement to the court. He apologized to BayLee’s family and friends, stating, “I understand my actions have caused immeasurable damage to your family.” He added that he is ready to take full responsibility for his role in the situation.

Before sentencing, Edelman said he believes Espinoza “has recognized the gravity of the situation” and the part the 17-year-old played in it.

Sentencing

Judge Rogers provided her thoughts on both Munoz and Espinoza, as well as the recommended punishments, before the sentences.

The judge said she read various letters submitted to the court expressing their support for Munoz. She said while it’s reassuring to know that so many people love the 18-year-old, the situation “cuts both ways.” In addition, she recognizes that Munoz had limited interaction with the justice system prior to his conviction.

“It’s reassuring to know people love you and have been with you no matter what,” Rogers said. “All of that speaks highly of you, but Mr. Munoz, this is a horrific circumstance.” 

Rogers continued, saying Munoz’s actions have shattered the community’s sense of peace and “inflicted immeasurable pain” not just on BayLee’s family but his own as well. “That’s your conduct. That’s your responsibility,” she said.

The district court judge then handed her sentence of 25–35 years to Munoz. In addition, she concurred with Bennett and recommended his admittance into the Youthful Offender Program.

The district court judge soon gave her thoughts on Espinoza as well, first stating that she agrees with the state’s plea agreement of five to seven years in the Department of Corrections. She felt the Youthful Offender Program suited Espinoza, too.

Similarly to her thoughts on Munoz, Rogers said it is comforting to know Espinoza has a strong support system and that he is ready to take responsibility for his actions. However, “you know better, you’ve always known better,” the judge said.


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