Gang member to serve 28 1/2 years in prison for stabbings

Fernando Saenz Jr., who pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree assault, got the top end of the sentencing range.

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WALLA WALLA — A local gang member was led from a Superior Court courtroom Monday afternoon after hearing he will serve 28 1/2 years in prison for stabbing two men in a bloody melee outside a Center Street residence where several victims were wounded in March.

Fernando Saenz Jr., 23, was handed the maximum prison term Judge Donald W. Schacht could impose under the standard sentencing laws of the state. In a plea agreement, the prosecution was recommending the low end, 21 1/2 years.

Saenz declined to make a statement at Monday’s hearing. His attorney, Jerry Makus, told Schacht before he imposed the sentence that Saenz is intelligent and capable, but had turned to the wrong people for friendship, respect and acceptance.

And Makus noted that not one person showed up to support Saenz at the hearing. "He’s here all alone," Makus said.

"If he can get away from those so-called friends, he might be able to turn his life around and have a productive life yet," Makus added later.
Saenz pleaded guilty Aug. 16 to two counts of first-degree assault. He admitted that he armed himself with a knife and stabbed Juan P. Robles, 22, and Luis Camargo, 42, who had arrived at a birthday party about 2:15 a.m. March 13 at 1306 Center.

Saenz and a fellow gang member, co-defendant Jacihel Contreras, 26, were attending the party, officials said. The stabbing victims — in addition to two others who were shot that morning, allegedly by Contreras armed with a semiautomatic handgun — have no gang affiliation. They reportedly had dropped by the party, which was being thrown for a daughter of the person renting the home, to retrieve a coat for a woman who had left earlier.

The victims and several family members conveyed to Schacht on Monday the devastating physical, emotional and financial impacts the attacks have had on their lives. Meanwhile, Saenz appeared to display no emotion other than to look down continually at a couple of documents in front of him on the defense table.

Robles wrote in a statement read aloud by police Detective Kevin Bayne that his group was confronted suddenly for no apparent reason and he ended up on "the brink of death" from multiple stab wounds, but is recovering.

Camargo, who also was stabbed, said through an interpreter, "Still, after all this, after time, it’s really bad." He added he still doesn’t know why his group was attacked. "We didn’t do anything to them. We didn’t bother them at all," Camargo said. "I want them to be punished in the maximum way for this."

Schacht said the statements were "an eloquent documentation" of the suffering that random acts of violence inflict on innocent members of the community and a 28 1/2-year sentence is appropriate for Saenz.

As required by law, Schacht gave him credit for the 151 days he’d served in the County Jail and placed him on two to four years of community custody, a form of probation, after his release from prison.

Police said four men were stabbed by Saenz while they were in the front yard area of the Center Street home. Then Contreras allegedly shot two victims after they started to flee in a vehicle. One of the men, Alan Roblero, 22, was both stabbed and shot.

In the plea agreement, the prosecution dropped the charge against Saenz relating to the stabbing of Roblero. Saenz also was accused of stabbing Contreras, apparently by mistake. That charge also was dismissed.

Contreras is scheduled to stand trial beginning Oct. 26 on two counts of first-degree assault for allegedly shooting Roblero and his brother, Osman Roblero, 21, who attended Saenz’ sentencing Monday with the aid of a walker. Contreras also is charged with one count of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. If convicted, he could be sentenced to serve decades in prison.

Saenz’s guilty pleas and admissions were in stark contrast to earlier letters to Schacht in which he steadfastly denied his guilt. In one such letter that Saenz wrote May 18, he complained about how his case was being handled. "I maintain my innocence of these charges and I will not accept any plee (sic) agreement or admit to committing any crime. I am a law abiding, tax-paying citizen of this state and it is clear that my constitutional rights as an American are being trampled on in your court."

Saenz asked several times that Gail Siemers, the defense attorney initially appointed to represent him, be replaced. He eventually threatened Siemers, according to court documents, after which Makus was assigned to the case.

Saenz then allegedly beat up a fellow inmate in the open area of a jail cell block on Aug. 8. But as part of the plea agreement he entered into with the prosecution, he won’t be charged in connection with that assault.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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