A lawyer who took on child murder and civil rights cases nobody else wanted was shot to death Friday in a drive-by shooting as he walked near his office to court.
Carlos Vigil, 52, died on a sidewalk just yards from the Steve Herrera Judicial Complex where he represented clients in a variety of cases, often charging them only what they could afford to pay.
Police were looking for a man with a criminal record whom Vigil had filed a harassment complaint against on Thursday, said Espanola Municipal Judge Charles Maestas, a family friend.
Vigil had represented the man in Maestas' court in July, when the man pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana and a misdemeanor charge of assault on a police officer, Maestas said. Maestas sentenced the man to 20 days already served. Police Capt. David Segura wouldn't discuss whether police were seeking that person in Vigil's slaying.
"It might be personal or it might be work related. We haven't ruled out anything," he said.
Vigil was killed as he headed to an arraignment for a 23-year-old woman charged with murder in the death of a newborn found floating in an apartment toilet. Vigil was her attorney.
Witnesses saw a pickup truck with a loud muffler, possibly driven by a man in his 20s, leaving the area.
District Judge T. Glenn Ellington, who was scheduled to hear Vigil's first case Friday, said he was stunned by his friend's death.
"He was not abrasive or someone who would bring out strong emotions," Ellington said. "He was a calming kind of individual."
People stood quietly around the courthouse after the shooting. Across the street, a group of Vigil's family, friends and colleagues gathered under a tree while a brown-robed priest said prayers.
Richard Shapiro, a Santa Fe lawyer who had known Vigil for 21 years, said he was devastated for Vigil's widow, Andrea, and the whole legal community.
Vigil was known as "de la plebe," a common man, in his hometown of La Mesilla near Espanola, said Rio Arriba County Manager Lorenzo Valdez, a lifelong friend.
"He'd take cases a lot of times that other people wouldn't touch," Valdez said.