Nearly three years after Faisal Razmal, a refugee who served as an interpreter to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was shot in the face with a flare gun in front of his Sacramento apartment, a teenager has pleaded guilty to the crime.
Renardo Dejour Williams, 18, admitted to Sacramento Juvenile Court Judge Judy Hersher Thursday he was guilty of two felonies charges: mayhem, which involves maliciously causing serious bodily harm to someone; and the illegal use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Those crimes could have earned him 18 years or more in prison, Hersher said. But the plea bargain could result in Williams being released on parole within four years, according to the Sacramento District Attorney’s office.
Williams will be sentenced Aug. 9, Hersher said.
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The assault on Razmal occurred on an August night in 2015. Razmal, then 28, was returning home from work as security job at a shopping mall when he encountered Williams and several other youths demanding cellphones and money from other Afghans living in the apartment complex.
Razmal tried to intervene and was shot in the face with a flare gun. The attack cost him sight in his left eye and sent the father of three into a downward spiral of depression and severe PTSD.
“It felt like my face was on fire,” Razmal told The Bee soon after the shooting. “It was my dream to be in a safe place. Back in my country, the Americans told me to come to the U.S. But what happened here is more than everything I faced in Afghanistan.“
Featured in an investigative series from The Bee titled "No Safe Place," Razmal became an illustration of the struggles many of the more than 2000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders and their families faced once they arrived in Sacramento.
Williams, who originally was going to be tried as an adult, was tried as a juvenile. He will serve his sentence in a California juvenile justice facility “up to the age of 25,” Hersher said.
“What you admitted to today is considered a strike under California law, and you will be prohibited from owning or possessing any firearm to until the age of 30," the judge said.
Razmal on Thursday said he thought the plea agreement was far too lenient. “Five or six years is not enough for this guy," he said. "He nearly killed me and hurt me and my community."
Over the course of the ordeal, he said, he has heard from many of the 350 Afghan interpreters living in the United States. He said with this kind of outcome, "they will never feel secure or safe.”
Fighting in Afghanistan, dozens of U.S. troops battling the Taliban relied on Razmal to stay alive. He routinely navigated deadly situations, sometimes identifying Taliban posing as Afghan soldiers. He and his special response teams survived roadside bombs and firefights. Like other interpreters, he risked his life by working with Americans.
Since the assault, Razmal has struggled to find and keep a job, pay his rent and care for his wife and three young children, he said.
To Razmal, the plea does not feel like justice. “If this guy did this in Afghanistan, he (would) spend the rest of his life in jail, pay a huge fine and never be seen by society,” he said. “I feel like I lost a piece of my soul, not just sight in one eye.”
Williams’ mother, Marlo McKelvy, said her son, who was arrested soon after the crime, has done better behind bars than he would have on the streets.
“Renardo has gotten his GED, taken college courses and is majoring in psychology and music,” she said. “He’s made a seven-track CD, and he’s mentoring other kids.”
The plea bargain “is a lot better than life in prison," she said.