OGDEN -- Rejecting a request that Riqo Perea get a second chance in 25 years, a judge Thursday sentenced the 22-year-old to life in prison without parole for a gang- related double homicide.
In announcing sentence, 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones said chief among the aggravating factors in the case was Perea firing 10 shots into a crowd, killing two and wounding two.
"There were no bullets left in the gun," he said. "He fired at a large group of people who were no threat to him. There was no evidence they were armed. The only mistake they made was not inviting him to a party."
Perea was convicted March 16 after a five-day jury trial on charges resulting from shooting up a wedding party Aug. 5, 2007, after a brief verbal fight between rival gangs.
Killed were Sabrina Prieto, 22, and Resendo Nava Nevarez, 29. Prosecutors on the eve of trial dropped their intentions to seek the death penalty.
Perea's sentence is actually life without parole, plus six months.
The six months is because Perea violated his probation on a 2006 conviction for weapons and alcohol charges, the arrest for the homicide charges being contrary to the terms of probation. Jones ordered the six months in prison to run consecutive to the life sentence.
Any felony conviction while on probation for a prior felony, by statute, almost automatically brings a consecutive sentence for the probation violation, Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward said after Thursday's hearing.
The 5 1/2-hour session was to decide whether Perea should be sentenced to 20 years to life in prison or life without possibility of parole.
"I understand he claims he's innocent," Jones said after hearing arguments from public defenders and prosecutors.
"I don't know how we rehabilitate when the defendant says he didn't do it. I don't know how you get there when he says he didn't do anything wrong."
Jurors rejected the defense efforts at trial to present an alternative suspect, which amounted to one witness, a retired police forensic expert theorizing some of the shots could have come from a location different from where Perea himself told police, and witnesses said, he fired.
"I'm not asking that you give him a second chance today," lead defense counsel Randy Richards told the judge in his summation. "I'm asking that you give him a second chance in 25 years."
Richards estimated that if Jones gave Perea 20 years to life, Perea's first appearance before the Utah State Board of Pardons would be in about 25 years, when Perea would be 47.
"If we don't believe that a 19-year-old kid can change, then we lose all hope."
Perea was 19 at the time of the shooting, which Richards called "a 30-second mistake."
The defense Thursday highlighted Perea's gang ties as a mitigating factor, saying gang influences motivated a vulnerable youth with no close ties elsewhere.
Perea was born into a gang, which helped raise him almost as much as his dysfunctional family, the defense said. The only close attachments Perea has had in his life were with gang members, leading to a lifestyle in which he smoked marijuana at age 3.
But Jones listed gangs on the aggravated side of the ledger for Perea, saying the gang member chose that lifestyle.
"All we learn from gangs is they have no respect for the law and no respect for other people," Jones said from the bench.
Richards and Heward are squaring off again in the case of Jacob Ethridge, who faces the death penalty in the July 2008 shooting of two women in downtown Ogden. Police say Ethridge confessed to committing the shootings after a year of violent fantasies.