EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 4, 2013

Mother of 2 admits lying to police in murder case

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — SALEM, Mass. — A Lawrence woman will spend the holidays with her two children before being sentenced for lying to local and state police about the whereabouts of her boyfriend, who was involved in a 2009 murder.

Maribel Villafane, 27, of 114 Ames St., faces a year at MCI Framingham after she pleaded guilty yesterday in Salem Superior Court to misleading a police investigation.

The maximum penalty for the offense is 10 years in state prison. The case was continued until Jan. 6 when Villafane will be formally sentenced.

Villafane, the mother of two children, ages 2 and 9, told police that her boyfriend Yoshio Stackerman, 28, was with her when he actually was involved in the killing of Robert Gonzalez, 20, in what has become known as the “minivan murder.”

Gonzalez was shot twice in the back. On Jan. 10, 2009, police were called to a pizza shop on Broadway, near Haverhill and Hampton streets, and Gonzalez was found wounded in a minivan.

Gonzalez was initially driving the minivan. But police said he dove into the passenger’s seat that evening, desperately trying to avoid two “execution style” gunmen who opened fire on the vehicle.

Villafane yesterday became the fourth person convicted in connection with Gonzalez’s murder.

Stackerman was found guilty of second degree murder on July 12 and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Two others, Joel Javier, 27, of Lawrence, was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. And Cauris Gonzalez, 23, of Methuen, was found guilty of first degree murder on Aug. 2 and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Gonzalez, no relation to the deceased, was the driver of the get-away car.

In court yesterday, Prosecutor Jean Curran said detectives questioned Villafane after the murder and she said Stackerman was with her at her aunt’s house in Haverhill “at a crucial time of the murder.” However, Villafane’s aunt later told police Stackerman was not at her home.

Cell phone records also indicated Villafane and Stackerman had called each other numerous times during the time frame, Curran said. Police stressed “this was a murder investigation but Villafane maintained she was with Stackerman in Haverhill,” Curran said in court yesterday.

“The information she provided to police was false,” Curran said.

Judge John Lu questioned Villafane in court yesterday. He asked her if she gave false information to police “with the intent to mislead a murder investigation?”

“Yes,” Villafane replied, as she sat on the witness stand flanked by defense attorney Michael Hickey.

“You are pleading guilty because you are guilty and for no other reason?” Lu added.

“Yes,” Villafane said.

During previous lobby conferences with Lu, Hickey asked for Villafane to be sentenced to probation. However, Lu said that was something he was “unwilling to do.”

Villafane, in earlier questioning by Lu, said she dropped out of school after 11th grade and was currently employed as a customer service representative in Lawrence.

Lu agreed to delay sentencing until Jan. 6 so Villafane could get her affairs in order, notify her employer and spend the holiday season with her children.

Villafane was also indicted on a charge of accessory after the fact, which was not prosecuted.

In May, a jury acquitted Thomas Castro, 30, of Lawrence, in connection with Gonzalez’s murder. Also, a murder charge against Francis Wyatt, 30, of 12 Woodland Ct., Lawrence was not prosecuted.

Gonzalez’s murder was investigated by State Police Lt. Norman Zuk, Trooper Josh Ulrich, Lawrence Detectives Jay Haggerty and Carlos Cueva and Lawrence Police Captain Dennis Pierce.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.