By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – For the second time, the Washington State Court of Appeals has struck down Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt’s nearly 93 year sentence for a drive-by shooting committed by a former Centralia High School student at age 16. Nobody was killed.
The three-member panel also agreed Guadalupe Solis-Diaz Jr. is free to move to disqualify the judge from the case.
Solis-Diaz Jr. was arrested after gunfire was sprayed along the east side of South Tower Avenue in Centralia, missing six bar patrons the summer of 2007. Witnesses testified it was gang-related. Solis-Diaz maintained he was innocent.
He was tried as an adult and convicted of multiple offenses, including one count of first-degree assault committed with a firearm for each bullet that was fired.
The six assault counts were ordered to be served consecutively and each carried a mandatory extra five years because they were committed with a firearm. While nobody was injured, the sentence given was at the high end of the standard range.
In 2012, the Court of Appeals ordered the local court to conduct a new hearing, referencing various matters that it believed should have been handled more thoroughly, given the defendant was a juvenile.
At the end of the hearing when it was finally held in the spring 2014, Hunt criticized the appeals court decision calling some of their conclusions insulting and ludicrous and said he found no merit in any argument he should lower the sentence. He sentenced Solis-Diaz for the second time to 1,111 months in prison.
A different three-member panel which issued its opinion today stated that on remand, the sentencing court must conduct a meaningful, individualized inquiry into whether Solis-Diaz’s youth should mitigate his sentence.
“Solis-Diaz argues, and the state concedes, that the sentencing court erred by refusing to consider whether application of the multiple offense policy warranted an exceptional downward sentence,” Justice Thomas B. Bjorgen wrote in the unanimous opinion. “He also argues the trial court erred by refusing to consider his youth as a mitigating factor and by imposing a 1,111-month prison term on a juvenile offender in violation of constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.”
The appeals court agreed with the two contentions, but stated it did not consider whether the sentence violates the constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.
“Accordingly, we vacate Solis-Diaz’s sentence and remand for remand for re-sentencing,” Bjorgen wrote.
Today’s decision was the topic of some casual conversation in Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey’s courtroom.
Judge Brosey mentioned the issuing of opinion to Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Nelson and defense attorney Joely O’Rourke after they finished the business of preliminary hearings.
Brosey spoke of political correctness and how clerks are the ones who write the opinions the justices sign their names to.
Brosey alluded to his thinking that the age of the person holding the gun doesn’t change what happens at the other end of a gunshot.
Judge Brosey and Judge Hunt have announced they are retiring at the end of this year. O’Rourke is running for election to Brosey’s position on the bench.
Solis-Diaz is represented by Longview lawyer John A. Hays. Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh argued the appeal for the state.
Justices Bradley A. Maxa and Rich Melnick concurred with today’s decision, however Melnick added a few paragraphs.
Melnick stated he agreed the sentence must be reversed, but didn’t believe the appeals court should be telling the trial court what issue to consider on remand.
For background, read “”Do-over” on drive-by shooting sentence yields no change for Centralian” from Monday March 3, 2014, here
And Washington Courts: Court of Appeals Division II: State of Washington, Respondent V. Guadalupe Solis Diaz Jr., Appellant: 46002-5, here