Gang murder nets man life sentence

Benito Gomez faces more than 91 years in prison

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In this May 23, 2011 file photo, Benito Gomez leaves the Walla Walla County Superior Courtroom after his first appearance in court for the killing of Julio Cesar Martinez.

WALLA WALLA -- A Superior Court jury has convicted a local man 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.

As a result, Benito Gomez will be ordered to serve the rest of his life in prison when he's sentenced later by Judge Donald W. Schacht.

Gomez stood stoically as the guilty verdicts were read at noon Tuesday in a courtroom at the County Courthouse. Several of his family members in attendance sobbed.

Following testimony in the trial that began Wednesday, the nine-man three-woman panel deliberated a total of about 81/2 hours Monday and Tuesday before reaching its unanimous verdicts.

The jury found Gomez, 19, guilty of second-degree murder in the 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.

Second-degree murder is an intentional killing without premeditation. Gomez had been charged with first-degree murder, a claim that Martinez's death was premeditated, but the jury wasn't able to reach a verdict on that charge.

With firearm enhancements mandated by the jury's findings, Gomez will serve the rest of his life in prison. Under state law, Schacht must sentence Gomez to a specific period of time between 91 and 3/4 years and nearly 115 years.

A sentencing date has not been set.

Gomez didn't testify at his trial, but denied to police and through his attorney, Jerry Makus, that he committed the crimes.

Makus had no comment after the verdicts were announced, other than to say his client will appeal.

Nagle said in an interview he was satisfied with the second-degree murder verdict because it was important the prosecution prove the killing of Martinez was intentional and committed by Gomez.

Nagle also credited police with a well-investigated case.

"They were relentless in the investigation. They worked very, very hard," he said.

"This case was complicated by the fact it involved gang members and they generally have no desire to help law enforcement."

The murder victim's brother, Victor Martinez, also expressed appreciation to police during an interview in a courthouse hallway after the verdicts were read.

"We got our justice we felt that we deserved."

Although he said he is a little disappointed the jury didn't find Gomez guilty of first-degree murder, "He did it. There was no doubt in our minds. We finally got our answer who and why."

Martinez referred to Gomez as a monster and added, "I don't have to see him anymore. My parents can sleep, basically knowing this guy won't be around forever."

Martinez also was sympathetic toward Gomez's family members. "They lost a son, too, so I have to be very respectful to his family," Martinez said.

Ramon Gomez said outside the courthouse he will keep proclaiming his brother Benito's innocence "until he stops declaring his innocence" because there is no physical evidence against him.

But Ramon Gomez added he has no anger toward anyone, and the case actually has brought the community and the families together.

"At this time, (my family is) going to mourn for awhile. But we'll look up to God and thank him for our blessings."

Benito 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.

The jury heard conflicting testimony during the trial.

For instance, two of Gomez's fellow gang members pegged him as the shooter, who was wearing a bandanna over his face. But Glasby and Cloyd testified the gunman's build appeared broader and huskier.

Two neighbors who didn't see the shooting identified Gomez as the only person who ran north from the scene.

He has been held at the County Jail since May 21 of last year.

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

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