Modesto defense attorney: Life in prison without parole too harsh for underage murder defendant

12/23/2013 3:09 PM

12/23/2013 4:36 PM

One of three defendants charged with murder in a north Modesto shooting has yet to enter a plea because his attorney says the maximum sentence he faces if convicted is cruel and unusual punishment.

Defense attorney Mark Sullivan says his client, 17-year-old Isaiah Stafford, should not face life in prison without parole if he is convicted of murder in the Dec. 11 shooting of Damian Villavicencio.

Lamar Oldham, 23, and Luisa Riley, 17, also have been charged with murder in Villavicencio’s death. The 19-year-old Riverbank resident was killed during an apparent drug-related shooting behind the Velvet Creamery restaurant on McHenry Avenue, Modesto police have said.

Another 19-year-old Riverbank man was with Villavicencio when, witnesses say, they stumbled into the nearby McDonald’s bleeding and saying they had been shot. The other man survived the shooting.

Investigators have said the shooting appeared to have been motivated by drugs, specifically marijuana. A man who tried to revive Villavicencio said he was holding what looked like marijuana when he came into the restaurant.

The three defendants also face attempted murder and attempted robbery charges in connection with the shooting. Stafford and Riley are being prosecuted as adults. Oldham and Riley have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have filed a special circumstance allegation with the murder charges against Stafford and Oldham, which makes Oldham eligible for the death penalty if the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office decides to pursue it.

Stafford does not qualify for the death penalty because he is a minor; he faces the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. If Stafford is convicted as charged, the judge has the discretion to sentence him to 25 years to life in prison with a chance at parole.

Nevertheless, Sullivan argues that it’s cruel and unusual punishment for a minor to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. He will challenge the filed criminal complaint and ask the judge to remove the possibility of a life sentence.

Oldham and Stafford face enhancements on allegations of firing a gun. The prosecutors have alleged that Oldham and Stafford committed the murder during the attempted robbery and were lying in wait for the victim.

Enhancements on Riley’s charges allege she was holding a gun when the two Riverbank men were shot during the attempted robbery.

If convicted, the enhancements could lengthen their prison sentences.

The three defendants remain in custody. Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova has scheduled the defendants to return to court Jan. 6.

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