Girl, 15, takes murder plea in Durham carjacking

CorrespondentMarch 17, 2014 

— A 15-year-old girl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday in the death of a man she tricked into giving her and her friends a ride so they could kill him.

The girl, Diana Escobar, who was 14 at the time, also pleaded guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

As part of a plea agreement, she agreed to testify in the case of her co-defendant, Justino Navaretta Maya, who was 16 at the time of the murder. He is accused of firing the gun that killed Johnny Danilo Villatoro, 35, a father of three.

If Escobar completes her side of the agreement, she will be sentenced to 10 years to 13 years in custody. If she does not testify truthfully in his trial, the court may impose any sentence it determines is appropriate. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 19.

A 12-year-old girl, who was alleged to be the ringleader of the trio, has already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in juvenile court, according to Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried. She will be held in a juvenile facility until she is 21, he said.

The two girls had run away from their home in Wake County and were staying with Maya when they came up with a plan to do a drive-by shooting of a rival gang, Dornfried told Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan during a hearing Monday afternoon in Durham County Criminal Superior Court.

But first they had to get a vehicle to use for the drive-by shooting, so they decided to kill someone to get a vehicle.

Villatoro was at a cell phone store paying his bill Dec. 28, 2012, when Escobar approached him and said she and her friends needed a ride home and didn't have a cell phone to call anyone. Escobar agreed, and the trio got in his SUV with him.

They gave him directions to Firth Road, a dead end street, and when they got there, Maya was supposed to shoot Villatoro, Dornfried said. At first Maya hesitated, but when Villatoro began struggling with the 12-year-old, Maya shot Villatoro seven times and left him on the side of street.

With Maya at the wheel of the SUV, he ran over Villatoro's arm and drove to Channing Avenue off North Roxboro Street. There the 12-year-old accidentally shot herself in the stomach and the leg with the handgun. She called her mother, who called for an ambulance, Dornfried said.

Police, meanwhile, had found Villatoro's body, and they were quickly able to link the three children to his murder from blood and shells in the SUV, Dornfried said.

With many members of her family in the gallery behind her, Escobar, appeared in court wearing jeans, a white shirt and a turquoise hooded sweatshirt, her hair pulled back in a bun. She answered clearly, “Yes ma’am,” as Bushfan asked her questions about her plea.

Maya is scheduled to be tried April 7.

Velliquette: bavelliquette@gmail.com

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