ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico man accused of opening fire during a road rage dispute and killing a 4-year-old girl in an attack that unnerved the nation pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and other charges in a courtroom packed with family members of the young victim.
Prosecutor Nicholas Marshall and the girl's grandfather both appealed to the judge to retain the $650,000 cash-only bond for defendant Tony Torrez, saying his criminal history and the nature of the shooting made him a danger to the community.
More than a dozen relatives of victim Lilly Garcia filled several rows in the courtroom and wept as Larry Cruz, her grandfather, spoke to Judge Stan Whitaker in Albuquerque.
"We believe that he is a flight risk and that because of this cowardly act that he has done, he will go to Mexico or some other foreign country and he will not be brought to justice," Cruz said, raising his voice as he stood several feet from the defendant. "And we believe he deserves justice, your honor."
Torrez's attorneys have raised questions about the cause of the Oct. 20 shooting but did not elaborate at the hearing and said they were not prepared to argue on the bond issue.
Whitaker ordered Torrez held without bond, invoking a seldom-used exception to a state law that generally bars judges from denying bail, except in certain cases involving capital crimes.
Police said Torrez shot Lilly Garcia in the head after an argument over a highway lane change escalated. Investigators say he chased the pickup truck driven by the girl's father and fired shots at the vehicle.
Detectives arrested Torrez the next day and said he confessed to the shooting.
The girl's father, Alan Garcia, had just picked up Lilly and her brother from school when the shooting happened, he told police.
Garcia and the girl's mother attended Friday's hearing and were embraced by relatives after it ended.
The young girl's death spawned an outpouring of sympathy nationwide, with the hashtag #JusticeForLilly showing up on social media the morning after she was killed.
Cruz, the girl's grandfather, said he addressed the judge during the hearing because he wants justice for her. Several family members in court whispered approval when the judge placed Torrez on the no-bond hold.
Torrez is charged in state court with first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, shooting at or from a moving vehicle, and assault with intent to commit a violent felony.
Torrez also faces federal drug and firearms charges in connection with accusations of marijuana trafficking.
DEA agents launched their investigation into Torrez the day after the shooting, saying in a criminal complaint that they seized $65,000 in cash from his home and a car he was driving when he was arrested.
Agents also reported finding large amounts of marijuana, four guns and a bulletproof vest in another car seen at his home.
Follow Mary Hudetz at twitter.com/marymhudetz.