A prosecutor asked District Judge Valorie Vega to sentence Dominic Jones to six to 15 years in prison Tuesday for being an accessory to the murder of a 19-year-old man, but Vega gave Jones five years of probation instead.
"Oh my God," relatives of the victim, Nathan Fowler, echoed in unison as Vega issued the sentence. They then stormed out of her courtroom.
Before the sentencing, Fowler’s aunt, mother and grandmother had spoken in court of their wish to see Jones, who claimed to be a friend of Fowler’s, sent to prison.
"I heard Nathan’s last words were, ‘Please take me home,’" Fowler’s aunt Samantha Flynn said to Jones. "I hope those words haunt you the rest of your life."
"You’re a sick human being," Flynn told the 20-year-old defendant. "I hope you rot in hell."
Fowler’s mother, Nicola Roundy, told Jones, "You pulled over and let that bastard shoot him."
Before sentencing him, Vega noted that Jones had made significant improvements in his life during the past year by getting a job and attending school.
"Had you been the shooter, you’d be serving prison time," Vega told him.
Prosecutor Susan Pate said that the truth will probably never be known about who killed Fowler. Jones and his former co-defendant, Roman Espinoza, gave conflicting stories to authorities.
Pate said both Espinoza and Jones were culpable in Fowler’s death.
Even though Jones had his car detailed the day after the slaying in an attempt to destroy evidence, blood was found on the front and back seats of Jones’ car — and Jones and his then-19-year-old girlfriend, Jessica Landers, had been in the front while Espinoza had been sitting in the back with Fowler, Pate pointed out.
Pate also emphasized Jones’ violent past while asking Vega to give him the maximum sentence.
"He has six prior juvenile arrests. Four of the six are for battery," Pate said.
In connection with his guilty plea in the Fowler case, Jones also pleaded guilty to a robbery. On April 9, 2006, hours before Fowler was killed, Jones beat a 17-year-old and stole his wallet.
Jones and Landers told authorities they picked up Fowler at a friend’s house later that night. Espinoza was with them.
According to the police report, Jones and Landers said Espinoza asked Jones to stop the car and then told Fowler to get out to talk to him.
Landers told police Espinoza questioned Fowler about stealing from his cousin, and then she heard two shots. Jones got out of the car to see what happened and returned to the car and then they drove away, Landers told police.
Fowler’s body was found at Helena Avenue and Tioga Way, near West Craig Road and North Buffalo Drive. He had been beaten, stabbed and shot twice in the head.
Jones pleaded guilty in June to being an accessory to murder, and a month later, Espinoza, 20, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter. The plea means he neither admitted nor disputed the charge.
Espinoza was sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison.
Espinoza, who changed the story he gave to police several times, said Jones shot and beat Fowler. At his sentencing in October, his lawyer said Jones and his girlfriend "lawyered up" before Espinoza did and that is why Jones was not charged as the shooter, because he agreed to testify against Espinoza.
About 24 hours after the slaying, Jones and Landers went to lawyer James Dean Leavitt’s office, where they gave "candid" accounts of the killing, Leavitt said. Each separately gave a nearly identical version of events.
Leavitt said Espinoza got Jones and Landers to help him by threatening them.
Jones said in court that his "actions that terrible night were guided by shock and fear."
"My actions were impulsive, irresponsible and unkind," Jones told the court as he apologized.
He said he will live every day of his life knowing his friend was shot and killed in front of him.