More than two years after it happened, the circumstances surrounding the killing of Springfield woman, Amber Lechuga, appear to finally be progressing to trial.
More than two years after it happened, the circumstances surrounding the killing of Springfield woman, Amber Lechuga, appear to finally be progressing to trial. Miguel Vasquez, the father of her two children, is held in the Brown County Jail, charged with first degree premeditated murder, two counts of second degree murder and second degree arson in the case.
Lechuga’s dismemberd body was found in a burning van near the Cottonwood River south of Sleepy Eye on Sept. 25, 2014. Vasquez was found walking along the highway, wearing nothing but his socks as he claimed his other clothes were on fire, after calling 911 to report a possible vehicle accident and assault.
While the evidence points to Vasquez being responsible for the killing, he has maintained that he cannot remember the facts of the incident. The entire matter is in Brown County District Court, where thus far the public defenders assigned to Vasquez have asserted that he is mentally incompetent or mentally ill and cannot particpate in his defense due to his lack of memory.
This past April, after mental evaluations of Vasquez were performed, Judge Robert Docherty found Vasquez competent to stand trial, writing: “Here, Defendant understands the proceedings and the evidence against him. Defendant offered two different versions of events in which he did not kill the victim. Defendant is capable of presenting a defense that the State has not made its case. On the facts before the Court, Defendant is not incompetent to proceed.”
In May the judge placed the trial on the court’s schedule for a three week period beginning on Oct. 31.
This week, on Monday, Oct. 17, a pretrial hearing was held to present arguments on several motions that had been brought before Judge Docherty. The defense asked for a change of venue, a request previously rejected by the court as unnecessary. They presented a report on negative social media comments made in response to various news reports, claiming such attitudes would make seating a jury in Brown County too difficult. They asked that a survey be done to determine if there will be a sufficient jury pool.
Other motions concerned instructions to jurors on issues such as the definition of premeditated, the number and choice of autopsy photos to be presented during the trial, and the makeup of the juror questionnaire. Both sides had presented the judge with questions they wanted included. Judge Docherty said he would review their questions and create an appropriate questionnaire and send it to both attorney teams, and to jurors—with return due before Oct. 28. The judge said he would also rule on the other motions expediently.