Calling it a case of “vigilante justice,” Yakima County Superior Court Judge Richard Bartheld sentenced a gang member Tuesday to 24 years in prison for a brutal 2018 jailhouse killing.
In sentencing Julian Luis Gonzalez, Bartheld ignored recommendations from prosecutors and Gonzalez’s attorney for a 22-year sentence, which included two years to resolve his pending first-degree assault and drive-by shooting case.
Gonzalez entered an Alford plea last week to first-degree murder in the Dec. 10, 2018, death of Jacob Ozuna, a plea that allows him to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convince a jury to find him guilty. In return for the plea, an aggravated first-degree murder charge, which carried a mandatory life-without-parole sentence, was dropped.
But Bartheld rejected a recommendation for a 20-year sentence, noting the brutality of Ozuna’s death warranted a stiffer sentence. He gave the attorneys a week to work it out, but said the latest offer was still not enough.
“When I first indicated the facts of this case were horrendous, that was an understatement,” Bartheld said. “The brutality of the attack indicates the intent of the defendants.”
Bartheld quoted from a Yakima County sheriff’s probable cause affidavit describing security camera footage of the 13-minute attack in the Yakima County jail, which began when Gonzalez and two other inmates, Felipe Luis Jr. and Deryk Alexander Donato, attacked Ozuna on the upper tier of their housing unit on Dec. 9, 2018. Ozuna was beaten and kicked until he was unconscious, dragged down the stairs by his legs as his head struck each step, and was again stomped and punched when his arm moved.
He died at a local hospital hours later on Dec. 10, 2018. An autopsy determined that Ozuna had bleeding in his brain, three broken ribs, kidney damage and other injuries.
In arguing for a lighter sentence, defense attorney Mickey Krom said the injuries did not suggest that Gonzalez was trying to kill Ozuna. He said it was more likely a case of manslaughter. He said Gonzalez also showed remorse by asking about Ozuna’s condition after he was taken to the hospital, as well as not withdrawing his plea after Bartheld rejected the earlier sentencing recommendation.
He also pointed out that the prosecution’s theory — that Ozuna was killed in retaliation for allegedly killing another Norteño gang member in Toppenish earlier that year — underscored the tragedy of the case, which he said included Gonzalez’s youth and struggles with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bartheld said the evidence suggested the killing was deliberate, and likely based on gang-based “vigilante justice.”
“In this instance, these three individuals decided to take the law into their own hands and take care of the situation,” Bartheld said. “We saw an example of that on Jan. 6 at our nation’s capitol, where a bunch of vigilantes decided to take the situation into their own hands, and people died because of that.”
By killing Ozuna, the three denied the court the chance to administer justice in the killing of Dario Alvarado, whom Ozuna was accused of killing.
Ozuna’s sister, Julia Ann Silva, urged Bartheld to provide the family with justice.
“Everybody wants plea deals, everybody wants a second chance,” Silva said. “Nobody gave my brother as second chance.”
Bartheld also advised Gonzalez to abandon the gang lifestyle as quickly as possible, warning him that as a gang member, he would be expected to commit violence on behalf of the gang leaders in the prison, as well as become a target for violence if he were to decide to leave gang life later.
He also suggested Gonzalez take advantage of prison programs that provide education and job training.
“You have an opportunity to better yourself,” Bartheld said.
Gonzalez’s co-defendants are expected to go on trial next month.