Walla Walla After proclaiming his innocence, Benito Gomez looked down, blinked and shook his head slightly as he was sentenced Tuesday afternoon to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The result was a foregone conclusion after a Superior Court jury convicted him last month of murdering a rival gang member and shooting at other people in a confrontation last year in an alley in the west end of town.
At Tuesday's sentencing, Judge Donald W. Schacht imposed a prison term of 114 years and 10 months, which is the high end of the standard range -- including firearms enhancements -- that Gomez faced. Credit was given for the 430 days he has served in the County Jail.
Gomez's attorney, Jerry Makus, had asked for the low end of the sentencing range, which is 91 years and nine months, and family members implored Schacht for justice.
The judge replied, "It's a very difficult and tragic case for all of those involved." But he added that, based on testimony at the trial at which he presided, the maximum "is an appropriate sentence in this case."
Makus -- who during the 35-minute hearing gave an impassioned plea for the lowest possible sentence -- expressed disappointment in a later interview.
"Giving (Gomez) the absolute max surprises me a little bit when the person was only 18 years old when he committed the crime."
Gomez, now 19, was found guilty by the jury June 12 of second-degree murder in the May 2011 shooting death of 20-year-old Julio Cesar Martinez, and of six counts of first-degree assault for shooting at other people in the alley and in an adjacent residence.
He told Schacht in court Tuesday, "You got the wrong guy. I'm going to appeal this case."
Makus acknowledged the shortest prison term of more than nine decades still would be "forever for my client," but said it would allow some "minimal hope" that someday laws could change, perhaps allowing for Gomez's release if he behaves in prison.
Makus added that some Hispanic men in this community join gangs because they need to belong to some group or association, even if they shouldn't. "But (Gomez) is an intelligent, capable, personable young man," Makus said.
"He will grow out of it."
His brother, Ramon Gomez, also said in court that his family strongly believes Benito Gomez is innocent.
"Our brother has been declaring himself innocent from day one," Ramon Gomez told Schacht. "That's why he refused the plea bargain."
It turns out that had Benito Gomez accepted a plea offer from the prosecution before going to trial, he could have received a sentence of less than 30 years.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle informed Makus in a March 29 letter -- later filed in court -- that he would allow Gomez to plead guilty to second-degree murder and four counts of second-degree assault, which would have resulted in a standard-range prison term of about 21 1/2 to 29 3/4 years. Under the proposed agreement, Nagle would have recommended the midpoint of the range, or about 25 1/2 years.
Gomez declined to accept the offer.
He didn't testify at his trial. But the jury heard evidence that Gomez and three fellow gang members met in the area of Sprague Avenue and Myrtle Street shortly before 6 p.m. May 17, 2011, and decided to fight rival members because the rivals had moved into their area.
Gomez and his members confronted the rivals in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street where Gomez gunned down Julio Martinez and fired at Joseph Dejesus and Miguel Saucedo, who fled into their apartment at 331 Myrtle.
Two other victims who are not gang members -- Jessica Glasby, who lived at the apartment house, and her visitor, David Cloyd -- also were in the alley when the shots were fired.
Two additional victims -- Roberto Cuevas and Patricia Nelson -- were in a different apartment at 331 Myrtle into which a bullet was fired.
No one but Martinez was hit. The weapon never was found.
Gomez has been held at the County Jail since May 21 of last year.
He refused to be interviewed for or otherwise participate in a risk assessment report prepared by the Department of Corrections prior to his sentencing.
The report quotes Gomez as telling a community corrections officer, "They are going to give me the max anyway, why should I speak to you?"
The document reveals that Gomez was expelled from Walla Walla High School in January 2010 for repeated gang activity.
"Although Gomez has reported that he enjoys both soccer and fishing, it would appear that he spent the majority of his time associating with gang members," the report says.
" ... His friends, associates and activities revolve around that group."