Year in review: Courts and crime

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  • Jesus Torres

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    Jonathan Torres

  • Jesus Torres

  • 1

    Jonathan Torres

MOSES LAKE — 2018 saw a lot of big cases come about, along with resolutions to other big cases. Here are some of the bigger stories for 2018 in crimes and court.

Jesus and Jonathan Torres

Perhaps no bigger stories came out of the court system in 2018 than the ones centering around a pair of brothers from Royal City. Jonathan and Jesus Torres were found not guilty of assault and drive-by shooting charges by Judge John Antosz in May following a bench trial. The brothers were accused of firing a gun at a vehicle with three occupants in the wake of a scuffle at Apex Cannabis in Moses Lake in July 2017. A woman survived a gunshot wound to the head in the incident, but Antosz ruled the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt who fired the weapon.

Roughly six months later the brothers were implicated in a Royal City shooting that left a 44-year-old man injured. Royal City police named Jesus and Jonathan as being wanted for questioning, but only Jesus gave a statement on the shooting. A few weeks later two men were shot and injured on an Interstate 90 off-ramp near Moses Lake. Through their investigation police ultimately arrested Jesus on Nov. 26 in connection with the shooting and he was charged with first-degree assault and drive-by shooting. Judge David Estudillo did not find probable cause for the charges and Jesus was released from custody that day. Probable cause was later found and Jesus is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

A few hours after his brother made his Nov. 27 court appearance, Jonathan, according to court documents, shot and killed his 58-year-old father with his mother in the car on a trip from Othello back to their Royal City home in the early morning hours of Nov. 28. Jonathan was apprehended a few hours later and is facing charges of first-degree murder (premeditated), second-degree murder (intentional), first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm (serious prior felony), attempted first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm (serious prior felony), resisting arrest and attempted disarming of a law enforcement officer. His bail was set at $1,000,000, but proceedings have been put on hold as he undergoes a competency evaluation.

Alejandro Rodriguez

Although the incidents involving Alejandro Rodriguez did not occur in south Grant County or the Othello area, the Rodriguez matter has widespread implications across the Columbia Basin. The shooting of Rodriguez in August was the first officer-involved shooting in Grant County in a few years. Police were searching for another person when the incident occurred and Rodriguez is accused of opening fire at police first in the Lakeview Community near Soap Lake. He was shot in the leg and is facing four counts of first-degree assault-law enforcement officer (firearm, deadly weapon, force).

Rodriguez’ bail was set at $1 million, due to the severity of the charges and the possibility of a life sentence if convicted, and court proceedings went like they normally do. That was until Dec. 11 when Rodriguez attacked a corrections deputy in open court, grabbed at the deputy’s gun and ended up getting tased. The incident prompted an ongoing discussion with regard to the shackling of inmates, as an appeals court ruled the shackling of inmates in a pre-trial setting is unconstitutional. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have differing opinions on the matter, but in the interim it was decided to use ankle bracelets that carry a charge. The solution is an interim one, with others, like an enclosed box in the courtroom and a closed-circuit television system, being discussed and considered.

Jill Sundberg and Arturo Sosa homicides

2018 saw significant progress made with regard to the men who have been charged in connection with the December 2016 murder of Quincy resident Jill Sundberg near George. Two defendants in the case, Ambrosio Mendez Villanueva, 26, and Julio Ceasar Albarran Varona, 27, saw their cases resolved via plea deals and each received an 18-year sentence.

The prime suspect in the case and alleged shooter, Gustavo Tapia Rodriguez, 40, remains charged with first-degree murder, with aggravating circumstances of armed with a firearm, acting with deliberate cruelty, drive-by shooting and kidnapping, and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

There was also significant progress made with regard to connecting Tapia Rodriguez, as well as Fernando Marcos Gutierrez, 25, who is a material witness in the Sundberg matter, to the Dec. 9, 2016 homicide of 28-year-old Arturo Sosa and injury shooting of another man near Royal City. Both of them have been charged in the Sosa matter.

Richard Byrd can be reached via email at rbyrd@columbiabasinherald.com.

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