District Judge Lee Gates reluctantly accepted the sentence that a defense lawyer and prosecutor recommended for a two-time killer Monday.
Juan Alcaraz, 25, entered an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter in the July 2, 2005, shooting of 19-year-old Jose Lopez. The plea is not an admission of guilt, but it acknowledges that the state has enough evidence to prove the charge.
Alcaraz’s lawyer Curtis Brown and prosecutor Frank Coumou said they agreed upon a sentence of eight to 20 years to run concurrently with the sentence of 20 years to life that Alcaraz had received last year when he was convicted of second-degree murder in the July 22, 2005, shooting of 49-year-old Roberto Rodriguez.
“I have a real problem with following your recommendation,” Gates told Brown and Coumou. Gates suggested the sentence was too lenient.
Judges do not have to abide by the plea bargain sentences hashed out by prosecutors and defense lawyers, but after being told that family members of the victim had approved of the sentence because they wanted closure, Gates went along with what was being recommended for Alcaraz.
After 20 years, Alcaraz will be eligible for parole, but the members of the parole board will be able to consider the Lopez homicide when they determine whether to release him.
Alcaraz was not charged with the Lopez slaying until after a jury convicted Alcaraz for the Rodriguez slaying.
Police said they matched the weapon used in the Rodriguez killing, a .38-caliber Super automatic handgun, to the weapon that fired multiple shots into Lopez’s back.
The uniqueness of the gun would have been the key piece of evidence had a trial occurred, Coumou and Brown agreed.
“Generally, .38s are revolvers,” Coumou said.
Then there was Alcaraz’s tagger nickname, “Boxer,” which was found spray-painted in the alley behind the 1600 block of Cordoba Lane near Vegas Drive and Decatur Boulevard, where Lopez’s body was found.
“In the gang land, that’s the way to lay claim to what you’ve done,” Coumou said.
Brown countered that he could have argued that the graffiti had been scrawled in the alley months before the shooting.
The state’s case was weak, Brown said. He said Alcaraz told authorities he was with a group that saw Lopez break into a friend’s car.
They chased Lopez into the alley, and another person, not Alcaraz, shot Lopez, Brown said.
Coumou said he thought he could have gotten a first-degree conviction from a jury, but “it’s 50-50 it could have been acquitted.”