Gaines County Sheriff's Dept. officials have added a third active murder case to their workload after investigative developments over the past two weeks have revealed a 24-year-old Gaines County woman, who was found dead on Nov. 29 in rural Eddy County, N.M., was believed to have been killed inside the Gaines County boundaries.
On Tuesday evening, Gaines County Sheriff Ronny Pipkin confirmed with the Seminole Sentinel two men -- Juan Villegas, 30, and Carlos Najera, 43, both of Hobbs, N.M. -- were arrested by Hobbs Police Dept. officials earlier that evening on respective Gaines County warrants for Capital Murder.
Law enforcement officials believe Villegas and Najera were involved in the death of Anna L. Villegas, 24 through the course of their investigative process.
Juan Villegas, according to Pipkin, is the "estranged husband" of Anna Villegas, who was reported missing by a person only identified by GCSD officials as being a "friend" on Nov. 21.
"We are working on tying up some of the loose ends of this investigation, but there is not a whole lot we can release pertaining to (the investigation ) at this time," said Pipkin in a Thursday morning interview with the Seminole Sentinel.
The body of Anna Villegas was found, bound and nude, by a passing hunter on Nov. 29.
"I walked along the river and I saw a good size pile of rocks that I thought looked odd,” said James Mayo, a Hobbs, N.M. resident who discovered Anna Villegas' body in a recent news account with the Hobbs News-Sun. "When I got closer I saw two feet and part of a leg.”
Mayo called 9-1-1 and led Eddy County Sheriff’s deputies to the site where they discovered her body.
According to reports, the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator determined her cause of death to be asphyxiation. In addition, the medical investigator's office revealed days later that Anna Villegas' body showed no signs of sexual assault.
Toxicology reports for Anna Villegas are still under investigation, according to Pipkin, and will take up to a minimum of six more weeks before being available to law enforcement investigators.
Pipkin stated he could not disclose any information into an possible motive or motives into Anna Villegas' death, due to the continuing investigation of the case.
Anna Villegas' family members, however, told the Carlsbad Current-Argus that she was scheduled to have a divorce hearing the day she disappeared.
Juan Villegas and Najera, as of presstime, remained in the custody of law enforcement officials at the Lea County Detention Center in lieu of $1 million bonds assessed by an arrest warrant issued by Gaines County Justice of the Peace, Pct. 1, Tammy Clark.
Investigators believe the two men abducted Anna Villegas from her residence -- located on CR 341 -- before they killed her and dumped her body off Highway 31 (Potash Mines Rd.) near a railroad bridge near Loving, N.M.
Pipkin, in Tuesday's confirmation of the arrests, stated information obtained during the investigation process prior to Juan Villegas and Najera's arrest led law enforcement officials to believe Anna Villegas' death occurred in Gaines County.
"We have a lot of different investigators and agencies who have been looking at this case and we are still in the process of gathering all that information, but we have reason to believe this incident (Anna Villegas' death) occurred within the Gaines County boundaries," said Pipkin.
Eddy County investigators, in a Wednesday news account published by the Carlsbad Current-Argus, also confirmed the theory.
"(The Eddy County Sheriff's Dept.) investigated the homicide as if the crime occurred inside county lines," said Zuniga. "As the investigation continued, law enforcement agents began to believe the crime occurred somewhere in Gaines County."
Juan Villegas was arrested by Hobbs Police after he called about an unrelated burglary to his property Tuesday afternoon, according to the Hobbs News-Sun.
"We went over there to take a burglary report, and he was standing outside,” said Hobbs Police Public Information Officer Mike Stone. "We detained him at that point until the warrants were confirmed.”
While that was taking place, Eddy County Sheriff’s investigators had recalled Najera to the Hobbs Police Station for additional questioning.
"We invited him to the (HPD) police station for some follow-up questions,” said Zuniga. "We were aware that there was a process in place yesterday for the warrants.”
After being booked into the Lea County Detention Center, both men made an appearance in front of Hobbs Magistrate Judge Craig LaBree Wednesday morning. No bond was set since Juan Villegas and Najera were also booked on fugitive charges.
Najera waived his right to extradition and Gaines County officials have until Dec. 26 to pick him up and return him to Gaines County.
Juan Villegas did not waive his right to extradition and will remain in New Mexico’s custody until his next appearance in court on Jan. 9, 2014.
Gaines and Eddy County officials said additional charges are possible once the investigation is complete.
"We currently are looking at some criminal charges in Eddy County, but we are going to have to confer with our District Attorney’s office to determine if they are necessary,” Zuniga said. "The matter is those two individuals have been arrested for capital murder, and I don’t know if our district attorney (in Eddy County) is going to think it is necessary to pursue what crimes were committed in Eddy County — which were definitely shadowing by the charges that were filed in Texas.”
Along with the GCSD, investigators with the Eddy County, N.M. Sheriff's Dept., Hobbs, N.M. Police Dept., New Mexico State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have actively been working the case.
(Editor's Note: Todd Bailey, Editor of the Hobbs News-Sun and staff members of the Carlsbad Current-Argus both contributed to this news story.)