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Local woman enters guilty plea for her involvement in alleged burglary during incident at Willmar home

WILLMAR -- A 23-year-old Willmar woman pleaded guilty Monday to an amended charge of second-degree burglary for her role in an October incident that included entering a Willmar home, brandishing a weapon at the residents and using landscaping blocks to smash a vehicle.

In a plea agreement reached in Kandiyohi County District Court, Sara Edith Rojas pleaded guilty to the charge, which was reduced from aiding and abetting first-degree burglary. The plea was entered on an Alford basis, where the defendant does not admit guilt, but admits there is likely enough evidence for a conviction. Six other felony charges will be dismissed. She will be sentenced Feb. 27.

Rojas was one of three people charged in the incident. Her boyfriend, Alberto Espinoza, 23, of Willmar, will make his next court appearance Feb. 5 on four felony charges for first-degree burglary, second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and first-degree damage to property. Three felony and a misdemeanor charge against him were dismissed in December.

Seven felony charges for burglary, assault and criminal damage to property against John Ruben Garcia, 20, of Willmar were dismissed Dec. 3 by the prosecutor. A statement provided by the victim said Garcia attempted to pull another defendant's hand away while the defendant was pointing a gun at the victim. That left the prosecution with insufficient proof to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The charges were filed after county dispatch received a report of a burglary in progress around 1:37 a.m. Oct. 3 along 14th Street Southeast. A Willmar police officer arrived and saw a woman running to a sport utility vehicle in the driveway.

The officer blocked the vehicle and saw a man in the backseat making furtive movements.

The officer drew his firearm and ordered the man to put his hands where they could be seen. Another officer observed the man put something in the seat next to him and say "it's not a real gun."

Officers interviewed a number of people at the scene and learned that five people lived at the home. Two others had arrived from work and were followed into the driveway by the SUV. The witnesses said Espinoza got out of the vehicle, started an altercation with a man who lived there, punched him and eventually left when the man ignored him.

The witnesses said Espinoza, Rojas and Garcia returned 10 to 15 minutes later and entered through the front door of the home.

Two men said Espinoza pointed a handgun at them, demanded to see the man he had just assaulted and threatened to shoot them.

As the three left, witnesses said, they smashed the windows of the car parked in the driveway. The officers examined the car, owned by a woman living at the home, and found that large retaining wall blocks had been thrown through the windows. A block had also been thrown on the hood. An estimate showed $4,152.49 in damages.

An officer examined the SUV and found an airsoft-style weapon, bearing the markings of a .40-caliber handgun. There was also a holster and a magazine in the vehicle.

Espinoza allegedly told an officer he and Rojas came over to get money for diapers from her husband. He claimed the man was verbally abusive to Rojas and that he got out of the vehicle to defend her. Rojas said she came to the home to make plans to see her children, had an argument with their father and that Espinoza had a confrontation with him. She claimed no knowledge of the damage to the car.

They were taken to the Law Enforcement Center and interviewed separately.

Espinoza claimed nothing ever happened at the residence, only that the police were called when Rojas and the man were arguing.

Rojas claimed the man was supposed to watch their children that weekend and claimed that she only asked to speak to him. She said he and Espinoza argued and there was no physical violence between them.