Walla Walla shooting suspect pleads guilty

Jacihel Contreras faces about 17 to 23 years in prison after his pleas in a shooting on Center Street in March.

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WALLA WALLA -- A man pleaded guilty this morning to shooting two brothers in a bloody, gang-related melee outside a residence on Center Street in March.

Jacihel Contreras, 26, entered guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree assault. He is the second and final defendant in the case to plead guilty to those charges and, based on his criminal history, faces about 17 to 23 years in prison when he's sentenced later by Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht.

In a controversial plea agreement opposed by the victims, their families and law enforcement, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden is recommending an 18-year prison term. Golden also agreed to drop other charges against Contreras.

Opponents told Schacht the agreement is too lenient, pointed out that several charges will be dismissed, and asked the judge for justice. On Monday, Schacht rejected an agreement with a different configuration of charges that would have netted Contreras about 16-19 years in prison. However this morning, Schacht agreed to the final deal.

He told the victims and their families he understands their position. But, "I think this is a fair and just resolution under the circumstances," Schacht said.

Contreras, an acknowledged gang member, was scheduled to stand trial beginning this morning. But the trial was canceled because of his guilty pleas. In pleading guilty, he didn't admit shooting the victims, but acknowledged the prosecution has evidence that can convict him and he wanted to take advantage of the prosecution's plea offer.

His attorney, Janelle Carman, explained in an interview that Contreras doesn't remember if he committed the crimes because he had been stabbed before the shots were fired and lost a significant amount of blood.

Officials said Contreras armed himself with a semiautomatic handgun and wounded Osman Roblero, 21, and Alan Roblero, 22, who had arrived at a birthday party about 2:15 a.m. March 13 at 1306 Center.

Contreras and co-defendant Fernando Saenz Jr. were attending the party. The victims, in addition to two others assaulted that morning, have no gang affiliations. They reportedly had dropped by the gathering, which was being thrown for a daughter of the person renting the home, to retrieve a coat for a woman who had left earlier.

In all, five men were wounded in the unprovoked attacks, officials said. Four were stabbed by Saenz while they were in the front yard area. Then Contreras -- who reportedly was mistakenly stabbed by Saenz -- shot the Robleros after they started to leave in a vehicle, according to authorities. Alan Roblero -- a Marine who had returned from deployment in Iraq -- suffered both gunshot and stab wounds.

Saenz, 23, pleaded guilty in August to two counts of first-degree assault for stabbing Juan P. Robles, 22, and Luis Camargo, 42, and was sentenced to 28 1/2 years in prison. Saenz's sentence is longer than what Contreras is facing because of his lengthier criminal history.

Saenz also was accused of stabbing Alan Roblero and Contreras. But charges relating to injuries suffered by those two men 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 last week -- as Contreras' trial approached -- Golden 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.

Walla Walla police Detective Kevin Bayne told Schacht this morning he believes the reduction in charges is too lenient. Although Contreras and Saenz pleaded guilty to identical charges, "I think Mr. Contreras' crimes are more grievous," Bayne said.

"I think that it's decidedly different shooting at wounded people than what Mr. Saenz did -- wounding people in a fight."

Alan Roblero, who was shot in the face, also said in court today: "I don't think it's fair what he's getting. Quite honestly I think he should get more."

On Monday, Osman Roblero -- who suffered multiple gunshot wounds -- stood with the help of a walker and told Schacht he no longer can work or play with his son. "I don't have a life anymore," he said.

Carman said her client "very likely" would have been acquitted by a jury if the case went to trial, but agreed to plead guilty because of the magnitude of charges against him. In addition to other "evidentiary problems" with the prosecution's case, only "one individual identifies my client as a perpetrator," she said.

However, that eyewitness is sure of what he saw. Robles said in an interview Contreras was about 10-15 feet from him and the other victims who were fleeing in the vehicle.

"That's the type of thing you don't forget," Robles said.

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

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