Alex Gomez stood up in a Stanislaus County courtroom Wednesday and forgave the man who shot his little brother. But he also asked for forgiveness.
“I hope your family can forgive me in my part in all this. ... I never meant for all this to happen,” Gomez said to Richard Maurice Jolly, who on Wednesday was sentenced to 24 years in prison for firing into a minivan and killing Eliazar Hernandez, a 16-year-old boy with Down syndrome.
Gomez apologized for his role in the violent confrontation near Modesto in 2009 that led to the shooting. Authorities say Gomez was in the minivan with his little brother leaving the scene of the confrontation when Jolly fired 10 shots into the vehicle.
Last month, Jolly agreed to a plea deal shortly after his trial started. Had a jury found him guilty of murder, Jolly would have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
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Instead, the defendant 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.
Wednesday morning, Eliazar’s family spoke in court about the impact of his death before Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira formally sentenced Jolly.
Gomez told Jolly in court Wednesday that he realizes now that a life filled with alcohol, drugs and gangs leads to pain. He said it took the hard lesson of losing his brother to change his life for the better, and he prays for Jolly to do the same. “That lifestyle leads to nothing,” Gomez said to the defendant. “I got off drugs. I hope you can change your life when you get out. I’m a firm believer in second chances.”
Gomez said he hopes he and Jolly can both become better men for their families in the wake of his brother’s death. He said he still struggles with his own grief and guilt. “I have to live with this for the rest of my life, and so do you,” Gomez said, fighting back tears. “You took an innocent little boy’s life. And I feel just as responsible as you.”
Jolly sat several feet away, nodding and looking directly at Gomez as the victim’s brother spoke about the boy’s death and his hopes for their redemption.
Gomez told Jolly that he has no ill feelings toward the defendant’s family, whom he also considers victims of this shooting. Several members of Jolly’s family in the courtroom audience wept as Gomez gave his emotional victim impact statement.
Frank Carson, Jolly’s defense attorney, told the judge that he and his client appreciated the statements given by Eliazar’s family, and it was clear that everyone in the courtroom Wednesday was grieving. He apologized on his client’s behalf.
Silveira said in court that Jolly expressed his remorse while speaking to probation officers in preparation for his sentencing. Jolly also told the probation officers that he wishes he could take back that day, according to the judge. The defendant did not speak in court Wednesday.
Esther Hernandez, Eliazar’s mother, told Jolly that more than four years later, she still feels a lot of pain and suffering. She misses her son, misses driving him to school, hugging him and hearing him tell her, “I love you.”
“I know you’re in here doing time, but I don’t believe you’re doing time like me,” she told the defendant.
Jolly has been in custody since he was arrested not long after the shooting occurred Oct. 20, 2009. Gunfire erupted after the 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.
Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara Owen has said in court that Gomez 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 he left the home vowing to return to fight, she said.
Defense attorney Carson has given a different account: He said Gomez went to the home and punched Omar Reyes. Carson 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 that Gomez’s group arrived with sticks, baseball bats and guns, and that Gomez had a lust for vengeance.
The prosecutor has said that 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.
Jolly was a minor when the shooting occurred, but he was prosecuted as an adult.
Vanessa Hernandez, Eliazar’s sister, told the judge that justice wasn’t served and that the defendant should have received more time in prison for his crimes. “He didn’t care who was in the car; he just took it upon himself to fire,” she said in court.
Another sister, Sabrina Rodriguez, vented more grief and anger in her court statement. She said she is angry that her family doesn’t get to see their brother anymore. Instead, they have to visit his grave. She wore a T-shirt with a large Spider-Man drawing. The family created the T-shirts to honor Eliazar’s memory.
“He drew this ‘Spider-Man’ two days before you shot him,” Rodriguez told Jolly.