A Sedgwick County judge ruled Tuesday that Eli Betancourt received more than effective legal representation in a trial last spring that ended in his conviction for murder of a 13-year-old boy.
“The most effective lawyer in the country couldn’t dig the defendant out of the hole he’s dug for himself,” Judge Ben Burgess said, following hours of testimony and arguments over the performance of his trial lawyer.
Betancourt, 21, claimed his lawyer should have spent more time visiting him in jail and hired an expert witness to testify about his intoxication the night he and Eddie Laurel shot and killed Miguel Angel Andrade Martinez on Father’s Day 2010.
But Betancourt recalled vivid details of when he and Eddie Laurel were waiting for the door knob to turn before firing 14 shots into the front door of a house where they thought another man lived. It was the wrong house and the wrong target. The teenage boy who died had nothing to do with the argument involving street gang feuds and vengeance that sent Laurel, Eli Betancourt and his older brother Alejandro to the house in the 2400 block of North Jackson.
A jury convicted Eli Betancourt in May of first-degree premeditated murder.
But Tuesday, as Betancourt faced sentencing, he contended his lawyer didn’t do her job in presenting a defense that he was too intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine to form the legal intent or premeditation to commit murder.
Alice Osburn testified that’s because Betancourt never told her he had been using cocaine that night. He didn’t tell police that either, saying he had only had two to three beers at a party several hours before shooting Miguel.
Roger Falk, a Wichita attorney who now represents Eli Betancourt, argued that Osburn could have visited her client more in jail. Osburn, who has represented hundreds of defendants charged with murder, rape and other serious felonies, said she visited Betancourt seven times in 10 months. She said Betancourt remained quiet, rarely asked questions and had complimented her on her work — until after the verdict.
“Just because he didn’t like the outcome doesn’t mean he didn’t get effective legal representation,” said prosecutor C.J. Rieg.
Betancourt continued to acknowledge responsibility for killing the youth by testifying at Laurel’s sentencing, against the advice of his lawyer.
That could work against Betancourt more than the testimony in trial, when he returns to face Burgess next month. Betancourt faces life in prison.
“He has not only dug a hole that’s very deep, but an abyss that’s inescapable,” Burgess said during his ruling Tuesday.
Burgess set sentencing for Jan. 13.