- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

NEW ULM, Minn. (AP) - A southern Minnesota man was charged Friday with killing his 22-year-old girlfriend, whose headless body was found in a burning minivan near Sleepy Eye last week.

Miguel Angel Vasquez, 26, of Springfield faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of Amber Lechuga, the mother of his children. His bail was set at $2 million with no conditions or $1 million with conditions.

“I’m concerned with the staggering brutality of the crime. I’ve been doing criminal law for over 17 years. When I read (the complaint,) it took my breath away,” said Judge Robert Docherty, who set Vasquez’s bail.

Vasquez is accused of killing Lechuga and dismembering her body before trying to burn the remains. Lechuga’s identity was only recently confirmed with a DNA test conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, The Free Press of Mankato (http://bit.ly/1uIAOzc ) reported.

Vasquez and Lechuga lived together in an apartment in Springfield with their two young children. Police searched the apartment on Sept. 26 and found evidence indicating Lechuga could have been killed there, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors said during Vasquez’s initial court appearance Friday that they were concerned the children could have witnessed the killing. Brown County Attorney Bob Hinnenthal said the children are now staying with their grandparents.

Vasquez requested a public defender and remained in jail Friday. He said little during his court appearance except to plead with the judge to allow him to see his children, the Free Press reported. His request was denied. A protection order preventing him from seeing the children was filed earlier on Friday.

According to the complaint, Vasquez called 911 on Sept. 25 to report an auto accident and assault south of Sleepy Eye. When police arrived they found Vasquez wearing only socks and smelling of gasoline, and the minivan engulfed in flames. Vasquez told police another driver had hit his vehicle from behind and then struck him in the back of the head.

Police found Lechuga’s remains in the van, according to the complaint. Her head was found in a plastic bag in the nearby Cottonwood River, the complaint said. An autopsy found two gunshot wounds to her head, fired at close range.

The issue of who will retain custody of the couple’s children during the trial will be discussed during the next court hearing, set for Oct. 14.

Vasquez’s release conditions would require him to wear a GPS tracker, not leave the state and make no contact with the Vasquez family.

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Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com

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