WALLA WALLA -- A local gang member who earlier pleaded guilty to shooting two brothers in a bloody melee outside a residence on Center Street in March will serve nearly 23 years in prison for the crimes.
Jacihel Contreras, 26, was sentenced late Monday afternoon to 22 years and eight months, the longest term Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht could impose based on a plea agreement he approved last month. Contreras pleaded guilty Oct. 26 to two counts of first-degree assault, netting him a standard sentencing range -- based on his criminal history -- of 17 to 222/3 years.
In exchange for Contreras' guilty pleas, the prosecution agreed to drop other charges and recommend an 18-year prison term.
Contreras was the second and final defendant in the case to plead guilty to two assault charges and be sentenced. In all, officials said, co-defendant and fellow gang member Fernando Saenz Jr. stabbed four men -- including Contreras, apparently by mistake -- then Contreras shot one of the men in addition to another as they were fleeing the brawl.
Schacht said Monday the maximum sentence for Contreras is appropriate because his crimes involved a firearm, which he wasn't allowed to have because of a prior theft conviction, and he injured two people severely.
Schacht added that although a birthday party where the assaults took place wasn't a gang event, he believes the attacks resulted from "perceived or actual gang activity" by the defendants misidentifying the victims or their intentions.
Contreras didn't speak to Schacht during the hour-long sentencing hearing. But in a written declaration, read in court by Contreras' attorney Janelle Carman, he urged the judge to impose 17 years, the low end of the standard range and about five years shorter than the top end. The declaration asked the judge to consider that Contreras also was a victim.
Contreras expressed remorse that anyone was hurt. However, "Please know I cannot take specific responsibility for any specific act because I simply have no memory of that night," the declarations says. "The doctors have told me this is normal considering the trauma I went through, physically and emotionally."
He also asked through the statement that Schacht consider he has two toddlers and "five extra years to spend with my children as a normal father and help support them will make a difference for them."
Several of the approximately 40 friends and family members of Contreras who attended the hearing echoed his remarks, at times tearfully saying he was a loving person, had become less involved with gangs and was improving his life. But victims and their families in attendance weren't impressed and asked for justice.
Luis Camargo, a stabbing victim, said through an interpreter that although Contreras expressed concern for his family as he's headed to prison, he didn't worry about the victims while shooting at them. "I have a family to support and the way that they left me, I'm not able to work like I once could," he said.
Victims and their families previously expressed opposition to the plea bargain, saying it's too lenient. Several have spoken to Schacht in court on multiple occasions about the devastating impacts the unprovoked assaults have had on their lives.
Schacht held a special hearing Oct. 27 to gather input from those who would be out of the area this week. Alan Roblero -- a Marine who was shot in the face -- said at that hearing he struggled six months to return to full military duty. "I'm trying to do my best for myself and my country. I'm trying to be an example for my brothers and sisters," he told Schacht.
"It's just mind-boggling to me. I'm trying to be the best I can be and this happens to me? I just want (Contreras) to get maxed out."
As required by law at Monday's hearing, Schacht gave Contreras credit for the 248 days he'd served in the County Jail since his arrest and placed him on community custody, a form of probation, for up to the rest of his life. He also will have to pay restitution for the victims' injuries.
Officials said Contreras armed himself with a semiautomatic handgun and wounded 22-year-old Roblero -- who also had been stabbed -- and his brother, Osman Roblero, 21. They and two other victims had arrived at the birthday party about 2:15 a.m. March 13 at 1306 Center.
Contreras and Saenz were attending the party. The victims, who have no gang affiliations, reportedly had come by the gathering being thrown for a daughter of the person renting the home to drop off a woman who had left earlier.
Saenz, 23, pleaded guilty in August to two counts of first-degree assault for stabbing Camargo, 42, and Juan P. Robles, 22, and was sentenced to 281‚Ñ2 years in prison. Saenz's sentence is longer than Contreras' because of his lengthier criminal history.
Saenz also was accused of stabbing Alan Roblero and Contreras. But charges relating to their injuries were dismissed, according to terms of Saenz's plea agreement.
Contreras initially was charged with the two counts of first-degree assault and one count of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden later added three additional counts of first-degree assault and one count each of possession of a stolen firearm and riot.
Had Contreras been convicted as charged, he could have faced the rest of his life in prison.
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.