The prosecutor said the guilty guy showed no remorse; the defense attorney termed it "a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions."
And the mother of a shooting victim told the court in a trembling voice that despite her heartbreak she can forgive the young man who murdered her son.Judge Leslie A. Lewis sentenced Ryan "Pookie" Brown to up to 20 years in prison Friday after he admitted guilt in a plea bargain regarding the July 5, 1997, street killing of Alfonso Gallegos.
Brown had claimed the shooting was done in self-defense.
The courtroom was filled with grief-stricken relatives. Members of the victim's family wept openly in the court hallways afterward.
Brown got prison time of zero to five years on each of the third-degree felony charges against him, including one count of felony homicide by assault and two counts of felony aggravated assault. Prison time for additional charges regarding use of a gun in the incident will be served concurrently.
Lewis also fined Brown $1,850 and required him to pay for counseling for the victim's family.
"I feel sorry for the victim's family, for my family. I wish I could take that day back. I wasn't thinking," Brown told the court. "I regret everything."
"I am well aware that two families have suffered," Lewis told Brown as she imposed the sentence. "Your choice leaves me no choice."
Lewis addressed the shooting victim's mother, Angela Aragon, saying she was "deeply touched" by Aragon's letter to the court. Lewis also spoke from the bench to Aragon's other sons, Andrew, 15, and Fabian, 12.
"To those young men: don't ever get involved with gangs," Lewis said. "Don't get involved with gangs to make up for what happened to your brother or because your life is empty."
Instead, the two young men can fulfill the promise their older brother's life possessed and be a comfort to their mother, the judge said.
Court documents say Brown admitted firing more than 20 shots from a 9 mm handgun at Gallegos, who was visiting Salt Lake City from Colorado. Witnesses at an August preliminary hearing testified that Gallegos and friends had attended the Sugarhouse Park July 4th fireworks display, then spent time barbecuing and drinking beer.
Shortly after midnight, a pickup truck filled with teenagers drove past Gallegos. Gang signs and taunts were exchanged, witnesses said. Gallegos, nicknamed "Teardrop" because of a tear-shaped tattoo under his eye, chased the truck on foot and, according to some accounts, appeared to be reaching for a gun. The truck stopped, someone began shouting "He's got a gun, he's got a gun," according to police. Brown, who was in the truck, pulled out his gun and fired at Gallegos.
Brown later told police he shot into the ground to scare Gallegos off and that he acted in self-defense.
Brown's attorney, Jorge H. Galvez, later said he was not criticizing the judge but was disappointed by the outcome. "My investigator found out that the case was screened (in the district attorney's office) at least four times by four different prosecutors and each termed it self-defense. Obviously, the fifth time it was different."
Prosecutors originally had declined to file criminal charges against Brown, 17, but irate members of Gallegos' family picketed the district attorney's office.
Galvez also said tests showed gunpowder on the victim's hands and said had the case gone to trial, information about Gallegos' alleged gang involvement and his conduct at the time of the incident would have been introduced.
However, prosecutor Vincent Meister said Brown's story had changed about whether he had seen a gun or not and that Brown came up with the self-defense scenario after several interviews with law enforcement officials. One reason prosecutors could make its case was because Brown had been "out bragging basically that he had gotten away with murder," Meister said.
"I see no genuine remorse," Meister said.
Outside the courtroom, Angela Aragon wept as she hugged other sobbing relatives after the sentencing. "Nothing will bring my son back. He always said he would take care of me. I know he's in a better place."
Can she forgive Brown?
"I know deep in my heart that is what my son would want me to do. I think (I can) with this faith that I have," Aragon said.