Rogelio Soto Jr. was not an adult on the night Arturo Moreno was stabbed to death, so he should not be given an adult sentence for his part in the crime, his defense attorney argued on Monday.
"Juveniles are not as culpable," attorney Kate Zigtema told Judge David Kaufman during the sentencing hearing for Soto, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Moreno's death.
Soto was 16 when Moreno was stabbed 79 times in his south Wichita apartment on March 19, 2009. Moreno, 28, died after he'd told someone on the phone that he had been involved in the killing of 8-year-old Tony Galvan 11 years before.
Galvan was killed by a shotgun blast as he stood in the front yard of his home in the Planeview neighborhood on Wichita's south side on July 21, 1998.
Moreno was drinking with Soto and others on that March night in 2009, according to testimony during Soto's trial, and a witness said that, just before he went outside, he saw Soto pick up a knife.
Soto was one of three people originally charged with murder in the case. Giovanni Gonzalez was convicted last May of second-degree murder for his role in the stabbing and sentenced to more than 13 years in prison.
Luis Navarrette-Pacheco, originally charged with first-degree murder, has pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary and aiding a felon. He is scheduled for sentencing on March 1.
Prosecutors want Soto, 18, a documented member of the Lopers subset of the Sur 13 street gang, to be handed a Hard 50 sentence — meaning he would have to serve 50 years before being eligible for parole.
That would mean Soto would not be eligible for parole until he is 68. Such a sentence, Zigtema told Kaufman, would deprive Soto of a chance to have a wife and family.
Those words prompted a shake of the head from Genoveva Ramos, Moreno's younger sister, as she sat in the gallery of the courtroom.
Soto's mother, Sanjuana, speaking through an interpreter, told the court that her son asked her to move the family from their home in Planeview when he was 13 or 14.
"I thought it was the whim of a child," she said. "I didn't pay much attention to it."
She realizes now, she said, that he was trying to get away from the gangs that proliferate in Planeview.
"If maybe we had done that," she said of moving, "we wouldn't be where we are now."
She had no idea he was involved with gangs until he was arrested, she said.
But a gang intelligence officer and a detective assigned to the Wichita Police Department's gang unit testified of Soto being a documented and active member of the Sur 13 street gang since about 2006.
Testimony in Soto's sentencing hearing is slated to resume today.