Manuel Martinez Vazquez said he understood when Judge Breen told him he had given up his right to remain silent. Photo by John Chadwell.
Manuel Martinez Vazquez said he understood when Judge Breen told him he had given up his right to remain silent. Photo by John Chadwell.

After Manuel Martinez Vasquez pled guilty to second-degree murder on Aug. 11 in the death of Sarah Villar, 32, and no contest to DUI-related charges, visiting Judge Thomas Breen handed down two prison sentences that will run consecutively, adding up to 19 years to life in prison. Breen said Vazquez would first serve four years for the lesser crime and 15 years to life for the murder charge.

On June 20, 2021, Tayler Schmitt, 33, and his fiancée Villar were walking their dog along Sunnyslope Road when, according to the Hollister Police Department, as they approached Sunnyslope Lane, Vazquez drove off the north side of the road, careened across the two-lane road and struck the couple, killing Villar. 

Vasquez was charged with murder and driving under the influence, in the death of Villar. He appeared in court on June 24, 2021, via Zoom and remained in custody at San Benito County Jail without bail. 

Vasquez was provided an interpreter during his court appearance and kept his answers to “yes” and “no,” or shook his head when answering Breen’s questions. Breen reminded Vasquez that his most important right was the right to remain silent and asked him if he understood that right. Vasquez said yes. Breen told him that by filling out a form given to him and signing it he had given up his right to silence. The judge asked him if anyone had made any promises or threats against him to make him sign the form. Vasquez said no.

Vasquez pled guilty to California Penal Code 187(a) that states, in part: “Behavior which shows extreme reckless disregard for the value of human life, resulting in the victim’s death. Thus, murder is an intentional killing.” He pled no contest to two vehicle codes.

District Attorney Candice Hooper told Breen that the second-degree murder charge was pursuant to People vs Watson, a California Supreme Court case which determined that people driving under the influence, under certain circumstances, can be charged with second-degree murder if they caused an accident that took a life.


Related BenitoLink stories:

Court continues hearing for driver facing murder charges 

Driver in Hollister pedestrian’s death booked for murder 


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John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...