SALT LAKE CITY — He didn't pull the trigger, but a West Valley City man is headed to jail for the role he played in the deaths of two brothers and their friend during a botched drug robbery in 2016.
"We're all human and I'm sorry for mistakes I've made so blindly," a shackled Mahad Abdirashid Omar, 24, said in court Friday. Reading from a handwritten statement on notebook paper, he said he hopes the families of the victims could one day forgive him, especially their mothers.
Omar on Friday pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, as part of a plea bargain. He sent text messages setting up the armed robbery that would take place during a marijuana deal, prosecutors said, telling Gerald Radckiff Grant, the man who ultimately fired the fatal shots, to bring a gun.
Brothers Angel Lopez-Salinas, 20, and Lauro "Raul" Lopez-Salinas, 19, along with their friend Armando Cuenca-Curiel, 17, all died of gunshot wounds, court records show.
Martha Lopez said through a Spanish language interpreter that the pain of losing her two sons is too great to forgive.
"I hope God forgives him, but I don't, because every day is difficult for me to wake up and know that my children are not with me anymore," she said.
Grant, 22, was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year and sentenced to prison. He said he killed the three in self-defense after he was shot in the leg two years ago.
On Feb. 18, 2016, Grant met the trio in South Salt Lake at 283 E. 3300 South, got into an SUV alone with the group and drove to a nearby neighborhood. Omar and another man intended to follow but lost sight of them, court documents show.
A short time later when Grant called Omar to say he had been shot in the leg and that he had fired at all three in the SUV, Omar came and brought Grant to the hospital, according to court records.
The Lopez-Salinas brothers and Cuenca-Curiel later were found in a smoking SUV that was stopped with its engine revving in the middle of the road. Cuenca-Curiel died at the scene, and the brothers died in following days.
Prosecutors emphasized Friday the fatal meeting was one in a string of robberies the men carried out.
"This was not an isolated event," said prosecutor Matthew Janzen.
Omar appeared shackled in a ponytail and beard, wearing an orange-striped Tooele County Jail uniform. His attorney, Ron Yengich, said his client has received threats and requested he remain there instead of in Salt Lake County.
Third District Judge Vernice Trease sentenced Omar to two years in jail, followed by four years of probation on the three manslaughter convictions. Omar originally faced three counts of murder and one count of aggravated robbery, all first-degree felonies, plus obstructing justice, a second-degree felony.
Yengich said he and his client hope the victims' families can find a way to heal. And he believes the case is symptomatic of a larger problem in the United States.
"We've turned this culture into a video game where kids carry guns and kids carry dope and kids make deals," Yengich said. "And then people die. And then when it's over with, we try to reconcile that with a criminal justice system that has very little ability to deal with anything."
As he was led out of the courtroom, Omar waved to his mother, who sat quietly. His family members declined comment through two leaders in the Salt Lake Valley's Muslim community, who attended the hearing.1 comment on this story
"We really feel bad for the family, for both sides," said Abdul Afridi, a trustee of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake. "One guy is in prison, one is in jail. The other three will never come back again."
He said many refugees who settle in Utah come from war-torn countries and don't understand the legal system in the United States, but his community is working with local police and the FBI to help families make sure youngsters are on the right track.
Omar's family emigrated from Kenya when he was a boy, and his parents are owners of a small business who volunteer often, said Imam Yussuf Abdi, of Salt Lake City's Madina Masjid Islamic Center.