A judge on Friday sentenced a 23-year-old man to 17 years and four months in prison for his role in a 2008 Modesto home-invasion robbery in which a woman was bound with duct tape and her 12-year-old son was pistol-whipped.
Defendant Eddie Gustavo Corona pleaded guilty to the crime in August 2009, but he didn't show up for his sentencing hearing about a month later. He remained a fugitive for three years before he surrendered himself to Modesto police and was booked Dec. 25 at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan said the victims lived with severe psychological anguish, fearing Corona would return to their home to harm them again. "We're talking about the three years he was on the lam," the prosecutor told the judge.
The victims never returned to their home on Laurenberg Avenue, just west of Claus Road in east Modesto. Brennan said it was too traumatic for them to live there.
The home-invasion robbery occurred about 7:30 a.m. May 23, 2008. The prosecutor said the family was targeted for a robbery, which was orchestrated by Jose Manuel Guajardo. He knew of the family because he was related to the victimized woman's ex-husband. He remains a fugitive.
Corona, Margarita Ordaz and Alain Guajardo committed the robbery. Alain Guajardo, who was 17 at the time, first knocked on the door and asked for the 12-year-old son by name.
The woman, who answered the door, thought Alain Guajardo was her son's friend and was there to walk to school with him. She invited Alain Guajardo into her two-story house, and he was quickly followed by Corona and Ordaz carrying handguns.
Brennan said the robbers first held a gun to the woman's head as she was on the ground, crying and pleading with them not to harm her children, who were asleep in their rooms upstairs. They then bound the woman's feet, hands and mouth with duct tape and stuffed her inside a closet.
Ordaz stayed downstairs as Corona and Alain Guajardo went upstairs. They found the 12-year-old boy, who was pistol-whipped before the robbers wrapped his face "like a mummy" with duct tape, according to the prosecutor.
The boy might have suffocated had he not poked a hole in the duct tape with his tongue, Brennan said. A neighbor later spent 15 minutes removing the tape from the boy's face.
His 5-year-old sister hid underneath her blankets and pretended to be asleep throughout the ordeal. She was not injured.
Heirlooms, vehicle stolen
Brennan said the robbers then spent at least 30 minutes ransacking the house, grabbing whatever they thought had value. He said they stole two laptop computers, a home stereo, jewelry, family heirlooms and cash, driving away in the woman's Chevrolet Tahoe.
It's unclear why the family was targeted. The prosecutor called the robbers "amoral opportunists."
A police detective who responded to the robbery later spotted some of the stolen jewelry at Ordaz's home while following up on an unrelated case. The victimized woman identified Ordaz as one of the robbers, which led police to apprehend the other two.
All three accomplices on Aug. 24, 2009, pleaded guilty to the home-invasion robbery. But only Corona, who was free on bail, didn't show up for his sentencing hearing Oct. 1, 2009.
Brennan said Ordaz was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Alain Guajardo, who was prosecuted as an adult, was sentenced to nine years in prison because he didn't use a gun.
On Friday morning, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves said she reviewed letters from community members and Corona, seeking a mitigated sentence. The judge, however, gave Corona the maximum sentence because of the callousness of the crime, the fact the defendant knew there would be children inside the home and a ruse was used to get inside.
Parole eligibility in 15 years
Corona will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence, which means he will be eligible for parole in 15 years.
The prosecutor told the judge he hopes the parole board isn't fooled by the defendant's claim that he's "reformed." He called the defendant's letters to the judge "self-serving" and said Corona was blatantly trying to shift the blame and minimize his conduct.
"He was one of the worst (of the three robbers), because he had the gun," Brennan told the judge.
Ernie Spokes, Corona's defense attorney, told the judge that the prosecutor's comments were unnecessary. "Your honor, I didn't realize we were at a parole hearing," Spokes said. "Mr. Brennan's speech about what the parole board does is moot."
Reeves told the defendant he still can achieve his goals and change his life for the better once he's released from prison. "I hope that you're sincere," she told Corona.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.