Ruling on juvenile life sentences could affect gang killing
Saturday, July 7, 2012
EPHRATA — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect sentencing if two young defendants are convicted of a gang-related Quincy murder.
The court ruled it unconstitutional June 25 for states to require judges to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That throws into doubt the sentencing sought for two yet-to-be-tried defendants in the murder of Adan Beltran, gunned down outside his Quincy home last year.
Beltran, 25, was shot to death April 22, 2011, allegedly by rival gang members in a dispute between his own Westside 18th Street gang and the Marijuanos 13. Police said Beltran used the street name “Boxer” and claimed to head Quincy’s Westside 18th Street chapter.
Four suspects were arrested after his shooting. Their fleeing car was stopped by Douglas County sheriff’s deputies using a spike strip on Highway 28 near Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park, after a high-speed chase.
Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee charged Abraham Lopez Torres, then 15, and his brother Benjamin “Smiley” Lopez Jr., then 16, with first-degree murder under several aggravating factors, including advance preparations and gang-related motivation. Both were charged as adults.
Lee cited those factors in hopes of winning an exceptional sentence for the Lopez brothers, who are now joined in the case as co-defendants. An aggravated first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory exceptional sentence of life in prison under current Washington law.
The Supreme Court decision, based on an Arkansas case, means 29 states including Washington must revise the way they handle the heaviest prison sentences for criminals younger than 18. The ruling may also mean young offenders now serving life without parole could win revised or shortened prison terms.
“The Legislature has to amend the current statute,” Lee said Tuesday, “but it’s not certain whether or not there’s going to be a life-without-parole option for juveniles in the state of Washington.”
Aldo Melchiori, staff counsel and coordinator for the Washington Senate Judiciary Committee, said the senators have sought input from prosecuting attorneys on how to frame any new legislation.
“At this point, there’s a lot of people looking at it, and there’s likely to be some meetings in the next few weeks,” Melchiori said.
The driver in Beltran’s killing, South Side Locos gangmember Roberto “Lil Man” Murillo Vera, 21, of Wenatchee, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. A fourth defendant believed to have ridden in Murillo’s car, 17-year-old Alexis Hernandez, is charged with second-degree murder.
In a statement to police, Hernandez said he was a passenger in the car, and saw Abraham Lopez Torres get out and approach Beltran’s F Street home wearing black gloves and a bandanna, then return after the shooting with the bandanna covering his face and a revolver in his hand. Benjamin Lopez Jr. gave Murillo directions on how to get to Beltran’s home and what route to take out of town, according to the statement.
Police said a .357 Magnum revolver and a .25-caliber semi-auto pistol were found at the arrest site, dropped by Murillo when he fled the stopped car on foot.
In a supplemental report on the case, Quincy Police Department gang specialist Sgt. Paul Snyder wrote that the Marijuanos gang involves at least a dozen known members. The Westside 18th collective is of similar size, Snyder wrote. Both groups align themselves with the larger Sureño family of gangs.
The current hostility may stem from the October 2010 drive-by killing of Edwin Cesar “Chow” Davalos, a 19-year-old Marijuanos member. No one was arrested in that murder, although Davalos’s group blamed Westside members.
The Lopez brothers are scheduled for trial Aug. 29, with 45 prosecution witnesses listed in the case. Murillo, the driver, is due to be sentenced July 18, but his hearing has been postponed numerous times while his fellow defendants await trial. Hernandez faces trial Oct. 3.
The Supreme Court decision does not affect the cases of Grant County convicts Jake Eakin and Evan Savoie, sentenced to 14 and 26 years respectively for the 2003 murder of 13-year-old playmate Craig Sorger. Both defendants were 12 at the time of the crime. Savoie will be retried in October after the Washington Court of Appeals struck the 2006 verdict in his case, saying a portion of his trial was unlawfully closed to the public.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123
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