SALT LAKE CITY — A year of ragged emotion between two families spilled into the courtroom Monday as a Salt Lake man was sentenced for murdering his longtime friend.
Michael Eugene Vigil, 36, was ordered to serve 25 years to life in prison for the shooting death of 33-year-old Antonio Vasquez in July 2012. He pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and possession of a weapon by a restricted person, both first-degree felonies, on Feb. 25.
Vigil quietly apologized to Vasquez's family in a calm, brief statement, attributing the shooting to a "psychotic episode" and saying he has to live every day with the remorse he feels.
"I want to apologize to the family. There's nothing I can do to bring him back," Vigil said. "He was a good friend."
More than two dozen of Vazquez's family members attended the sentencing, several wearing memorial shirts with a smiling photo of Vasquez. A small group of Vigil's family members left the courtroom quickly after the sentence was imposed.
Vasquez and another man, Lee Otero, were visiting Vigil's parents at 440 N. Grant St. on July 26. Upon arriving at the house, Vigil shot his friend Vasquez and then shot and wounded Otero, pursuing Otero and firing several rounds that struck vehicles and buildings, according to court documents. Vigil surrendered when police arrived.
Judge Denise Lindberg acknowledged that Vigil's mental state directed his actions on the day of the shooting, and that prolonged substance abuse only made things worse. Had Vigil sought mental health and substance abuse treatment earlier, she said, Vasquez's death would have been prevented.
I want to apologize to the family. There's nothing I can do to bring him back. He was a good friend.
–Michael Eugene Vigil
"I hope that this awful experience, this awful episode in the lives of both families, will be something you think about," she told Vigil. "It will be an incentive to you to stay on your medications and become productive."
Sylvia Fernandez, Vasquez's mother, told the judge about making plans for her son's approaching birthday before he was killed, and Vigil's enthusiasm when she told him about the party. Instead, her son was cremated that day.
"They grew up together, they were childhood friends," she said afterward.
Reina Rojo, Vasquez's cousin, addressed the court only briefly before she was too overcome with emotion to continue, saying the Vigil family still gets to see their son while the Vasquez family can only release balloons in memory of their loved one.
"No sentence will be enough," Rojo wept. "You were part of our family, Mike."
Vasquez's 11-year-old stepdaughter, Maribel Chavez, read a letter to her slain stepfather in court.
"Dear Tony: It's been a long time since we've been face-to-face," she read. "I miss you so much, I miss your laugh. It's so hard without you."
Maribel talked after the sentencing about the small, two-bedroom house the family moved into the day Vasquez was killed, and the work they planned to do to fix it up.
Her mother explained it was supposed to be the start of their life together. Now, the family lives there with his memory.
"His laughter, his spirit — he was just the perfect person," Carol Chavez said, smiling briefly as she explained Vasquez's joy at playing pranks. She and Vasquez had been together for about a year, and family members told her he had been planning to marry her.
Adrienne Atwood, Vasquez's grandmother, recalled the smile on her grandson's face that day when he came to tell her about the house, departing for the last time with a big hug and a kiss.
"I think I have found some peace, I see it every day because I see his picture," Atwood said. "I just feel bad for all our family, and (Vigil's) family. (Vigil's) family also lost somebody too, although they didn't lose him like we did."
Vasquez's family mourned the loss of another family member earlier this year when Danielle Lucero, Antonio Vasquez's sister, and two other people were shot and killed inside a Midvale home on Feb. 12.