Saturday, January 25, 2014

Defendant takes plea deal in shooting of teen with Down syndrome

by Rosalio Ahumada from The Modesto Bee:
Attorneys on Wednesday unexpectedly agreed to a plea deal that will result in a 24-year prison sentence for a man, now 21, who in 2009 fired 10 shots into a minivan near Modesto. The gunfire killed a 16-year-old boy with Down syndrome.A trial started Tuesday morning for Richard Maurice Jolly, who was accused of murder in the shooting of Eliazar Hernandez.

After the attorneys’ opening statements, the jurors didn’t hear any testimony in the trial. Instead, the attorneys told the judge Wednesday morning that they had reached an agreement that would end the trial and close the case.

Jolly pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement for using a gun and three counts of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, according to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. The boy’s family also was in the minivan when the gunfire struck the vehicle.

As part of the agreement, Jolly will be transferred to prison immediately after he is sentenced Feb. 19. In that hearing, the boy’s family will have an opportunity to speak in court about the impact of his death.

The attorneys have negotiated possible deals numerous times since Jolly’s preliminary hearing concluded in February 2012. Jolly was facing a maximum life sentence had the jury convicted him.

Prosecutors on Tuesday offered Jolly a last-minute plea deal for a 24-year prison sentence and two felony charges that would be considered strikes under the state’s “three-strikes” law, but he rejected the offer. That proposed deal would have made Jolly eligible for a sentence of 25 years to life in prison if he were convicted of another felony.

The deal made Wednesday resulted in only one charge being considered a strike.

Jolly has been in custody since he was arrested not long after the shooting occurred Oct. 20, 2009. Gunfire erupted after a violent confrontation between two groups at a home on Lombardo Avenue, which runs east from South Ninth Street a few blocks south of the Tuolumne River.

In her opening statement Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara Owen said Alex Gomez, the boy’s older brother, had gone to the Lombardo Avenue home to buy drugs, and several of his friends were inside. Rather than buying the drugs, Gomez was jumped and assaulted, and left the home vowing to return to fight, she said.

Frank Carson, Jolly’s defense attorney, gave the jury a different account: He said Gomez went to the home and punched Omar Reyes. The defense attorney said there was a grudge between Gomez and Reyes.

Both attorneys said Gomez gathered a group of people, including his family, and returned. Gomez was armed with a shotgun, and he used the gun to smash the home’s windows and the windows of a parked vehicle, trying to provoke those inside the home to come out. Carson said Gomez’s group arrived with sticks, baseball bats and guns, and that Gomez had a lust for vengeance.

The prosecutor said the group left, and that Gomez got into a minivan driven by his mother. She said the shots were fired as the minivan was driving away from the area.

Owen told the jurors that neighbors heard Jolly asking, “What I gotta do? What I gotta do?” Seconds later, Jolly hung up a phone and said, “I gotta kill somebody” before firing the gun at the minivan, she said.

Gomez’s arm was struck by gunfire, but he survived his injury.The defense attorney said his client fired the gun in self-defense and ran away because he was a 16-year-old boy who was scared. Jolly was a minor when the shooting occurred, but he was prosecuted as an adult.

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