UPDATE: Second story from the series is scheduled for release today (June 24) no later than 5 p.m., Mountain Daylight Time. The detailed account is scheduled to follow within an hour of that.
FEATURE PHOTO: After getting into a fistfight then leaving, New Mexico Lobo baseball player Jackson Weller returns to the scene of the fight near Last Call outdoor eatery just after 2 a.m. on May 4. Weller, who had punched a 4-foot metal object minutes earlier with his right fist while leaving the scene, looks at his hand on his way back. He was shot dead minutes later (Mark Smith/Enchantment Sports).
This is part 1 in an ongoing investigative series by Enchantment Sports into the shooting death of University of New Mexico student-athlete Jackson Weller.
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Copyright Enchantment Sports
A surveillance video in police hands and eyewitnesses contradict University of New Mexico accounts in the killing of Lobo baseball player Jackson Weller, leaving some questioning the school’s motives.
Business owners said the tragedy and the version of it provided by UNM, have taken an economic toll on the area.
Weller, who has been described as a stellar student, a model citizen and a pro prospect, was shot dead last month in the affluent Albuquerque Nob Hill area, shocking and outraging many in what has become one of America’s most violent cities.
Based on information given in a UNM news conference, it has been widely reported that Weller was “protecting a first date” just before he was killed.
”Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous,” a Nob Hill security guard told Enchantment Sports under the condition of anonymity.
Nearly everyone interviewed during Enchantment Sports’ two-week investigation of the homicide would not provide names, saying they feared gang members would kill them to keep them from testifying in court.
“I can’t go home to a gated community like district attorneys and lawyers,” said one Nob Hill security guard. “I just go home to my family.”
Darian Bashir, an alleged gang member, was arrested after a week-long manhunt. He is in custody and charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.
Bashir, 23, was on the streets despite being arrested for allegedly shooting a man in September 2017, then arrested again in February 2019 for allegedly firing a semi-automatic assault rifle from a car at another vehicle — nearly hitting two cops.
Eyewitnesses at the scene of the crime now are questioning the accounts UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez and Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham gave regarding the events leading up to the killing.
And the accounts don’t mesh with a surveillance video that captured the crime, a video Enchantment Sports has reviewed on multiple occasions.
It is yet another controversy for an athletic department that has suffered numerous national black eyes in recent years. See here.
“Nothing adds up,” said a local shop owner, who said his business has been ravaged since sketchy accounts have increased fear in an already shaken city of Albuquerque.
“The media has gotten nearly everything wrong, and UNM just won’t tell the whole truth.”
Weller was killed around 2:15 a.m. on May 4. In an afternoon news conference on May 6, Birmingham wiped away tears on a number of occasions, called Weller “John Wayne” and said Weller “probably had a 4.0 grade point average.”
On June 4, Birmingham and Nuñez gave another news conference to provide more details about the tragedy. Birmingham said Weller was trying to protect a female date in front of a late-night food stand before being killed.
Nuñez said, “From everything I’ve heard about Jackson, it’s not surprising that he would step up and try to do what’s right.”
A recent editorial in the Albuquerque Journal said, “Last month, a UNM baseball player was shot to death along Central near Nob Hill – a case that has rocked the city and the university. The deceased, Jackson Weller, apparently made the fatal mistake of trying to protect his date after she was knocked to the ground in a food stand line.”
Enchantment Sports has attempted to question Nuñez and Birmingham numerous times about the discrepancies from their accounts and the accounts of eyewitnesses and from the surveillance video, and did so by email again on June 20.
On the evening of June 20, Nuñez emailed, “Thank you for the note but we have been advised not to comment any further because this is an ongoing homicide investigation.”
The only person next to Weller at the moment he was shot is a male, who multiple sources said is also a Lobo baseball player. Sources said the 23-year-old Weller was also with at least one other Lobo baseball player during the evening on May 3 and into early-morning hours of May 4.
Enchantment Sports has learned that Weller was kicked out of Nob Hill Bar & Grill “sometime before 1:30 a.m.,” on May 4, according to its ownership.
Eyewitnesses said Weller then got into at least one fistfight outside in the Nob Hill area.
The police report said Weller was “engaged in a brief and minor scuffle/fistfight with several subjects shortly before he was shot – though none of these subjects were the person who later approached and shot him.”
Multiple people said they were eyewitnesses to the fight, which they said occurred in an alley next to The Last Call, a Baja Mexican eatery. The late-night, walk-up food stand is on Richmond, one block north of Central Avenue.
Until the shooting, there was no sign of a fight or any type of commotion on the surveillance video.
The video Enchantment Sports reviewed is approximately 14 minutes long. It begins just after 2 a.m., and the shooting is at nearly 2:13 a.m.
On Monday (June 24), Enchantment Sports will release a detailed account with photos of what it viewed in the video. Two such photos are in this story.
Eyewitnesses said the fight in the alley took place prior to the beginning of the surveillance video. They all said the fight did not involve the alleged gunman.
Witnesses said there was a previous fight on Central just east of Richmond, and accounts varied as to whether Weller was involved in that one. They said others who were, later gathered around The Last Call at the time of the shooting.
The surveillance video begins with people milling around on Richmond and a number of people in front of The Last Call. The food stand is part of the building next to Imbibe Cigar Bar and Nightclub, which is on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Richmond.
Weller starts walking away from the scene around 2:04 a.m., which witnesses say was after his fistfight.
“He got his ass whupped in a fight in the alley, and he just kept coming back,” said Albert Montgomery, a Nob Hill security guard. “He had cuts and a fat lip, and he just kept walking back and forth, maybe five or six times.”
Another security guard who works in Nob Hill said, “He just wouldn’t leave. We were all saying, ‘Just walk away; just let it go and go home.’ He wouldn’t go.”
Both security guards said Weller might have had a date with him, but they didn’t see one. They said Weller initiated the fight by pushing his way past people in the line.
After the fight, Weller walks south on Richmond toward Central, with two men and a woman a few steps behind him. Weller, who was a right-handed pitcher, punches his right fist into a 4-foot-metal object before walking out of view of the surveillance camera. The two men and the woman walk out the picture as well.
At 2:09 a.m., one of the men who walked away behind Weller returns to the area by himself. He walks north on the sidewalk toward The Last Call.
Weller returns into the video view seconds later. He also walks toward The Last Call. He shakes his fist and looks at it, as if having injured it.
One business owner said he wished UNM would have pointed out how many times Weller could have left after the fight and that the situation wasn’t as what Nunez and Birmingham led people to believe in the June 4 news conference.
“Maybe (Weller) was on a date, and maybe something happened, but this doesn’t appear to be a random thing that a guy just randomly showed up to shoot a guy,” said the man, one of a number of Nob Hill business owners who met with police detectives in a group setting a few days after the homicide, and spoke with Enchantment Sports on condition of anonymity.
“(Weller) was messing with some guys who were not good people. He had opportunities to walk away. He was behaving badly enough to at least get kicked out of one bar that evening.
“Did he deserve to get shot to death? Of course not; nobody is saying that, whatsoever,” the businessman continued.
“But the way this has been reported is destroying business down here. I just want the truth to come out.”
UNM officials have refused numerous requests for interviews or to answer emailed questions from Enchantment Sports.
On the evening of June 5, after Enchantment Sports informed Nuñez it had seen the video, Nuñez texted the following, including the part in parentheses:
“To speculate and purposely create a story based on what ‘you’ have watched and not knowing all the facts (which none of us have ever said that we have the complete facts) is insulting and not something I will support.”
Enchantment Sports viewed the surveillance video of the shooting on June 5, June 7, June 11 and June 14, each time with at least one other person, and for approximately three hours combined.
Weller’s killing sparked gun-law debates and became a rallying cry for Albuquerque to take much more serious action against violent crime.
A great deal of blame has also been put on Nob Hill bars, and their clientele.
Owners say unjustly so.
In the video, after Weller and the other man who left with him earlier return to the area, both blend into the crowd and there is no commotion.
At 2:12 a.m., Weller and the other man start walking away from the scene again, heading south on Richmond Avenue.
Within a minute, a man with his hat on backward comes on the street and faces Weller and the other man. The three exchange words, but there is no visual sign of conflict.
Weller and the man with him start walking away, then turn back to again exchange words with the man, alleged to be Bashir, on Richmond.
Witnesses said there was never any physical contact between any of the three, and none of them was ever in a physically threatening position.
“It looked like a minor disagreement, but there was no yelling, no cussing; it wasn’t a loud disagreement,” Montgomery said. “That’s what threw me off; the body language didn’t look like there was too much intent there.”
Montgomery said Weller looked to be about 6-feet-2 inches tall and 220 pounds, and the man with him — thought to be the other Lobo baseball player — was “about 6-foot and 200 pounds.”
Montgomery said the shooter was “about 5-8 and a buck-40 (140 pounds).”
The man alleged to be Bashir, turns his back on Weller and the man with Weller. Both Weller and the man with him step toward the man’s back. The man turns around, pulls out a gun and fires one shot into Weller at point-blank range. The man with Weller was actually closer to the shooter.
Weller puts his right hand on the road, then lay on his back.
On June 5, prior to Enchantment Sports seeing the video, Nuñez told the website he had not seen the video.
“I’ll tell you what I can, but I’m not a detective,” he said, “but I’ve been told what I’ve been told. What we said yesterday (in the June 4 news conference) was fairly accurate.”
Nuñez didn’t respond when later asked, in emails, why he hadn’t seen the video.
(UPDATED )COMING MONDAY, JUNE 24: Please see here.
Enchantment Sports continues its investigation and releases detailed findings and photos from the surveillance video, and what eyewitnesses say started the fight in front of The Last Call.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in the state’s history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been nationally honored for investigative journalism. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.