Two and a half years after a gruesome discovery near the Cottonwood River south of Sleepy Eye, a Springfield man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Two and a half years after a gruesome discovery near the Cottonwood River south of Sleepy Eye, a Springfield man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Miguel Vasquez was on trial for the killing of Amber Lechuga, the mother of his two children, whose dismembered body was found in his burning van on Sept. 25, 2014. The bench trial (Vasquez waived his right to a jury trial), before Judge Robert Docherty in Brown County District Court, began on Nov. 2 and 3, 2016. The trial was interrupted due to a reported suicide attempt by Vasquez and resumed on Feb. 21. After five days of testimony the trial concluded on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

The judge returned a guilty verdict, less than an hour after recessing to review the evidence. The next morning, Wednesday, March 1, court convened again and Judge Docherty ruled, based on the testimony of two doctors who had evaluated Vasquez, that Vasquez was not mentally ill at the time of the murder.

On Thursday morning, March 2, the courtroom was full of Lechuga family and friends, law enforcement personnel, Vasquez’s parents and press, for sentencing. But first, victim impact statements were read, giving family and close friends an opportunity to speak of Amber and their loss.

The statements reflected the family’s anguish at their loss, the sense of betrayal they felt, the fracture in their family. However, memories of a beautiful, happy, caring, singing and dancing Amber, were also shared. A friend said, “Amber was free-spirited, loud, funny, beautiful and caring, a great mother. None of us will hear her sing or see her dance. Why did he take her from us?”

Following the victim impact statements, the judge said he’d tried to think of something eloquent to say, but could not. He sentenced Vasquez to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He ordered restitution of $22,884.89 for the family, paid to the Crime Victim Reparation Board from Vasquez’s prison earnings. Restitution for allowed prosecution fees will be determined later.

Vasquez was transported to the MN Correctional Facility in St. Cloud on March 2. It is expected he will be moved to Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility (in Stillwater) after a 90-day processing period.