Youth, 15, Given Life Terms in 2 Slayings : Saticoy: Joseph Scholle, the first to be tried in the April drive-by shootings, cannot be held past his 25th birthday.
An El Rio youth described as “unremorseful” and “socially defiant” was sentenced to life in prison Friday for the drive-by slayings of two Saticoy men.
But because he is only 15, Joseph Scholle cannot be held in custody beyond his 25th birthday. And even though three older teen-agers accused in the case are eligible for much longer prison terms, an appeals court decision this week offers them hope of eventually being paroled if they are convicted.
Scholle is the first defendant to be sentenced for the April 7 slayings of Rolando Martinez, 20, and Javier Ramirez, 18, and the wounding of two other men.
Judge Allan L. Steele found Scholle guilty of murder and attempted murder after a seven-day nonjury trial last month. According to trial testimony, Scholle accompanied three other youths--Carlos Vargas, 16, Edward (Tony) Throop, 18, and Vincent Medrano, 16--to Saticoy, where Medrano and Throop hoped to settle old scores with a gang based there.
As it turned out, the men killed in the drive-by shooting were not gang members.
At Friday’s sentencing, Jesus Martinez said that since his son was gunned down, “I feel like dying of sadness.”
Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Martinez told the judge that Rolando Martinez was “a model son.”
“He was so young, so full of hope to achieve something in life through his studies. . . . To take away his life for no reason, it is not fair.”
As for his son’s killers, Martinez said, “I wish they could feel the pain of repentance at all they have destroyed.”
Several other relatives of the victims also attended the sentencing, as did Scholle’s parents and other members of his family.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter D. Kossoris described Scholle as a “socially defiant person who has not conformed to the rules and laws of society.”
He reminded the judge of testimony that Scholle had wanted to fire the shots and was angry when Throop insisted on being the triggerman. After learning that two men had been killed, Scholle was “gleeful and proud,” the prosecutor said.
“He was never remorseful--just the opposite,” Kossoris said. He added that Scholle, who was affiliated with an El Rio gang, has been involved in fights while in custody at Juvenile Hall.
In a plea for leniency, Scholle’s attorney, Richard W. Hanawalt, said Scholle was merely a passenger on an ill-fated ride. He said Scholle was necking with a girl while the other three hatched the drive-by plot, and that Scholle went along because he had no other transportation.
“This lad,” he said, pointing to Scholle, “was carried along on a conveyor belt of peer pressure.”
Hanawalt said that if Scholle was sent to the California Youth Authority, he would come out a hardened criminal.
“No one can go to the Youth Authority without having to join a real gang to survive,” the attorney said. He urged Steele to sentence Scholle to six months at a local juvenile facility, even though he acknowledged that “society might sputter with rage” at such a decision.
Steele, in the midst of jury selection for Throop’s trial, said he could not comment on the case other than to pronounce sentence. He gave Scholle 25 years to life for each of the murders, plus two life sentences for the two attempted murders, all to run consecutively.
But because Scholle is only 15 and could not be tried as an adult, he cannot be held in custody past his 25th birthday, officials said.
Testimony in Throop’s trial is expected to begin by the middle of next week. Medrano’s trial is scheduled to start on Aug. 26. Vargas pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others after prosecutors said they would drop a “special-circumstance” provision that more than one person was killed in the crime.
For adults, conviction on the special-circumstance allegation can result in a life sentence without the possibility of parole. But on Monday, the state Court of Appeal’s 4th District in Santa Ana ruled that Proposition 114, approved by voters last year, forbids charging minors with special circumstances.
Another successful initiative, Proposition 115, allows charging minors with special circumstances, but the appeals court ruled that Proposition 114 takes precedence because it received more votes.
The appeals court opinion coincides with an argument raised by Throop’s attorneys, deputy public defenders Christina Briles and Neil B. Quinn. Although it is unclear whether the appeals court opinion is binding on Ventura County Superior Court, Briles said Friday that it bodes well for her client.
“I suspect it will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, which will probably uphold the appeal court,” Briles said. If her view prevails, Throop and Medrano will eventually be eligible for parole if they are convicted, she said.