The kids caught a break – 25-to-life instead of no-parole terms for their special-circumstance murder convictions. Even the prosecutor said he thought Alexander Marquis Lewis and LaQuwon Warr could be rehabilitated and made eligible for future freedom, when they’ll still be in their early 40s.
The actual shooter, Jermaine Barnes, who fired seven bullets into an unarmed man lying in the street, will never get out of prison if the judge’s sentence handed down Friday holds up over the decades.
Barnes’ girlfriend, 13 years his senior, who escorted her man and the two then-teenage boys to commit the murder – Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raoul M. Thorbourne laid into her harder than anybody. Fitima Goodman, he said, was the adult who could have stopped the whole thing,
“Not only is her life in effect destroyed, but I think her actions led also to the all but functional destruction of these three,” Thorbourne said. “I have no hesitation at all in sentencing her to (life without parole).”
Through much of the sentencing, a young woman named Blanesky Martinez sat slumped in the front row of the courtroom. At times, she held a black coat over her face, to conceal her grief over the loss of her murdered father, Fernandez Vichez, 50.
Martinez cried the most when she heard the story from one of her dad’s co-workers, Cindy Russell , as read to the court, about how Vichez as a little boy growing up poor in his native El Salvador never complained about having to stuff his feet into shoes that were way too small. “I’m fine, Mom. I’ll be OK,” he told her, even though his feet hurt him then and continued to hurt him when he grew up.
In America, he grew up to drive a propane-delivery truck for AmeriGas in the Los Angeles area. Russell said Martinez moved to Sacramento and eventually became head district technician for the company.
Russell said Fernando dreamed of buying a house outside Vacaville. Not long after midnight on June 15, 2010, he walked out of the Casino Royale on Auburn Boulevard with a chunk of what could have been a down payment in his pocket – $1,100. He was feeling so good he peeled off a $5 bill for three teenage panhandlers who stopped him.
They saw the rest of the roll, though, and then called Barnes, now 26, who rousted Goodman, now 39, to start up her truck. The two of them went out and found Lewis and Warr as well as Goodman’s son, Zevante Goodman, then 16, and Chelsea Washington, who was 17. Then the bunch of them went looking for Vichez and found him walking south on Howe Avenue.
According to evidence at trial, Lewis and Warr helped Barnes brace Vichez, who may have taken a swing at the gunman. Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Hightower said Vichez fell during the scuffle, and that’s when Barnes shot him.
Hightower did not minimize the role Lewis and Warr played. “I hope you both realize that because you were a few days young enough, you’re going to get a chance at life again,” he told them.
They’ll be eligible for parole at age 42.
Neither had a criminal record. They qualified for life without parole for murder during the course of a robbery, but an onset of case law in the appellate courts as well as recently enacted legislation in the Capitol has given judges leeway in sentencing juveniles convicted of murder and other serious offenses.
Hightower and Thorbourne agreed with defense attorneys Jon Lippsmeyer for Lewis and Jo De Illy for Warr that the two deserve special consideration, based on their lack of prior records and strong family and community support.
“There is a basis to believe they can be rehabilitated,” Hightower said.
Last year’s Senate Bill 260 mandated that juvenile no-parole sentences must be reviewed after 15 years. Judge Thorbourne said it’s likely higher courts or the Legislature will force a review of sentences on juveniles who get the 25-to-life terms like he handed down Friday.
“If they come back to me,” Thorbourne said of the sentences, “I would give it serious consideration” to paroling them earlier.
Chelsea Washington and Zevante Goodman pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery. They testified for the prosecution and were sentenced to six years in prison on their plea deals.