YAKIMA - Emotions ran high yesterday in courtroom 1 of the Yakima County Juvenile Justice Center as the parents of Nora Gonzalez made statements before Judge F. James Gavin regarding the death of their daughter.
The family was able to address the court and 15-year-old Antonio Aguilar Jr., who entered an Alford plea to one count of first degree manslaughter last month.
Following his sentencing, Aguilar was taken into custody by juvenile officers and escorted out of the courtroom. It was the first time he had been in-custody in six months. He was released on bail 20 days after shooting his 11-year-old distant relative.
Aguilar was sentenced to 27 to 36 weeks in a state juvenile facility, which is at the upper end of the sentencing allowed in a juvenile manslaughter case.
According to Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Eller, once Aguilar is processed into the system, he will be evaluated and it will then be determined exactly how long his sentence will be, although it will be within the 27 to 36-week time frame.
"He's going to serve 27 weeks," said Eller. "If he doesn't behave he's going to get more time."
The time Aguilar will serve is little consolation to the Gonzalez family, who asked the judge to give the teen more time in the juvenile system.
"This has been a tragic case on all counts," said Eller. "It's been a difficult case. I'm pretty positive the victim's family is not satisfied with the agreement."
A month ago Antonio Aguilar Jr. entered an Alford plea to one count of first degree manslaughter in the case of the death of Gonzalez. The 11-year-old girl died at Harborview Medical Center Oct. 28, 2004 after she was shot in the head.
The young girl's mother, who is also named Nora Gonzalez, addressed the court first.
Tearfully, Gonzalez shared her feelings that this was not an accident.
"The whole day he had the gun on the street," she alleged. She also alleged that her daughter had been threatened by the teen previously.
"I would like him to stay more time, so he know it wasn't a game," she said. "My daughter was no kind of animal for him to kill her like he did."
As the victim's mother spoke, Aguilar covered his eyes with a tissue, attempting to wipe away the tears.
Gonzalez asked that Aguilar be required to stay in the juvenile system until he is an adult.
"He doesn't know how to play," she said.
Gonzalez was in Seattle the day her daughter was shot and recalled visiting her daughter at Harborview Medical Center, where she later died.
"I saw her in the hospital," she said. "She was crying because she knew she was dying."
Gonzalez said that through her daughter's closed eyes tears ran down her daughter's face.
"She was good and she was joyful and he took away everything," she said while standing, wanting him to look at the photo of her daughter on her shirt.
Also addressing the court was the young girl's father, Oscar Gonzalez.
He pointed out that his daughter has always been associated as a cousin of Aguilar, but that he was not.
The two were distant relatives that didn't see each other often, he said.
He said Aguilar's mother should also be held responsible for what happened, saying she is the one who had the gun.
"She gave him the gun and showed him how to use it. She showed my son how to use it," he alleged.
"He's a kid who wants to feel old when he is not," said Mr. Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said it is his belief that the boy was practicing with the gun when the shooting occurred, because he had been having problems with kids on the street.
"He felt brave with that weapon in his pocket," said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said he wants the teen to pay for what he has done.
"The months he's been out on the streets, they have not been good for him," said Mrs. Gonzalez.
Aguilar's mother also had a chance to speak at the sentencing hearing, although the accused waived his right to address the court.
"He and my family want to say we are sorry," said Marie Aguilar, the teen's mother.
She explained she had already sent her son off to school that day when she left for work at about 8 a.m.
"When I left my house, the gun was still in the drawer," said Aguilar.
She said that she had never shown Oscar Gonzalez Jr., the brother of the victim, or her son how to use the weapon.
"Oscar had a big responsibility to the girl. If he had taken the girl to school none of this would have happened," said Aguilar.
She said her children and the Gonzalez children loved each other and liked to play together, although they did not see each other often.
"We always loved the Gonzalez family so much and they know that. If I had a chance I would bring the girl back," she added.
Also speaking on behalf of the 15-year-old boy was one of his instructors in the Day Reporting program.
Often referred to as the teacher's favorite, she said that Aguilar has become an advocate of the program and with his help students at the school are now able to earn credit in the school system.
She added that when given the opportunity to write about any topic he chooses, he often writes on gun safety.
Aguilar's attorney, Jennifer Barn-Swan, said the only real issue at hand is his mental development status.
She said two experts were split on the decision as to whether or not Aguilar was mature enough to understand what was going on.
"All the evidence has always been that this was an accident," said Barn-Swan. "The best we can tell, Tony believed the gun to be unloaded and he did not point the gun at her. He did not realize there was a bullet in the chamber."
Recently, Barn-Swan relayed, she saw a video of a training session with an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent waving a gun around. The agent was demonstrating how not to handle a gun when it fired, shooting him in the foot.
"Even an ATF agent doesn't always know if there's a bullet in the chamber," she said.
Looking at a report, Judge Gavin pointed out that each year more United States teens die from gunshot wounds than from any other reason.
Roughly 16 children a day are killed with guns, he said.
"We've got a problem here and this case highlights it," he said. "We have readily available firearms for people who should not have firearms."
Gavin pointed out that the shooting was not an accident, but rather a case of negligence, which is why Aguilar was charged with first degree manslaughter.
"This is a case in which Mr. Aguilar exercised no reasonable common sense," said Gavin.
He said that although the victim's family pointed out that maybe Aguilar's mother is partially at fault, but he said it is up to local police to file charges.
He added that the State Legislature has set the standard of 15 to 26 weeks as the punishment for first degree manslaughter.
"Whether I agree or disagree with that is irrelevant today. I must follow the law," said Gavin.
He added that he would like to see Aguilar participate in counseling and spend numerous hours talking to youth about gun safety.
Gavin also allowed restitution to be paid to the family. So far, restitution is set at $7,312, but is expected to increase as more costs associated with the victim's death are expected to be incurred by the family.