Drive-by shooter gets time served

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WALLA WALLA — A man who pleaded guilty this week to participating in a July 2011 drive-by shooting at Howard and Tietan streets has been handed a time-served sentence.

Daniel Ramos-Lara was accused of shooting at rival gang members from a moving vehicle. He now will be handed over to immigration officials and probably will be deported to his native Mexico.

Ramos-Lara pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge of complicity to drive-by shooting, which carries a standard-range prison term of 21-27 months. But he served more than 18 months in the Walla Walla County Jail since his arrest in October 2011.

His attorney, William McCool, successfully argued at Ramos-Lara’s sentencing hearing Thursday that if he were transferred to Shelton, Wash., to enter the state prison system to serve even the high end of the standard range, 27 months, he would be released from its custody as soon as officials there calculated the length of his sentence.

That’s because convicts serving prison time for such a crime are given one-third off for good behavior when they arrive, which would automatically reduce the length of Ramos-Lara’s term to less than the amount of time he already has served in the County Jail.

McCool also contended that because the prosecution asserts that Ramos-Lara, 27, was affiliated with a gang, he could be injured or killed by prison inmates during the short time he would serve in the system.

“In that interim of time, bad things can happen and I just don’t want to see that at all,” McCool said.

Based on specific findings, Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann agreed to impose a jail term of 364 days and gave Ramos-Lara credit for time served. Because the sentence is a year or less, it keeps Ramos-Lara out of the prison system.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden recommended the sentence in a plea agreement.

Normally that would be “unheard of” in a drive-by shooting case, Golden said. “I would never do this had (Ramos-Lara) not spent so much time (in jail).”

But because Ramos-Lara has served more than the amount he would have spent in prison, “I think it’s fair,” Golden said.

Lohrmann signed an order at Thursday’s hearing finding, in part, that victims in the case initiated or provoked the Howard and Tietan drive-by because they allegedly had fired at a vehicle occupied by Ramos-Lara in Milton-Freewater less than one-half hour earlier.

But Lohrmann sternly told Ramos-Lara such activity in a civilized society and quiet neighborhood “is unthinkable,” later adding, “We’re not going to tolerate it in this town.”

Lohrmann placed Ramos-Lara on 12 months of community custody, a form of probation, if he remains in or ever returns to the United States. He also ordered him to pay at least $1,370 in court costs and fees.

A co-defendant, Francisco Casillas Jr., 32, has yet to be sentenced after pleading guilty April 19 to a charge of second-degree assault while armed with a deadly weapon. He faces a standard-range prison term of 15-21 months, but will be given credit for more than three months he served in jail before being released on bail in January 2012.

Officials said Ramos-Lara and other gang members were in an extended-cab Chevrolet pickup driven by Casillas that was chasing rival gang members in a Chevy Tahoe about 5:40 p.m. July 28, 2011.

As the vehicles were heading north on Howard at Tietan, Ramos-Lara — a front-seat passenger in the pickup — fired shots from a .22-caliber revolver at the fleeing Tahoe in a northeasterly direction, according to authorities.

A witness told police the Tahoe then headed east on Tietan and the pickup fled either west on Tietan or continued north on Howard.

A bullet penetrated a window of a residence.

Apparently no one was injured.

Ramos-Lara initially was charged with four counts of first-degree assault and one count each of drive-by shooting and riot. Casillas faced charges of complicity to the crimes. Had they been convicted of those charges, each would have faced decades in prison.

But Golden said in an interview he agreed to reduce the cases because of defenses that would have been raised had they gone to trial, in addition to anticipated problems with uncooperative witnesses that might have resulted in acquittals.

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

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