(pool photo by Mamta
Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo sentenced former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola, Monday morning, to natural life in the Arizona Department of Corrections for the May 30, 2009, murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores during a home invasion in Arivaca.
In addition, Gaxiola was sentenced to life in prison with the opportunity to apply for parole after serving 25 calendar years for the murder of Raul “Junior” Flores, Brisenia’s father.
On July 1, a Pima County Superior Court jury returned guilty verdicts against Gaxiola, 44, on two counts of first-degree murder as well as six other counts. On July 15, during the penalty phase of the trial the jury sentenced Gaxiola, who was facing the death penalty, to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Raul Flores, but was unable to reach a verdict on the sentence for the murder of Brisenia Flores. The prosecution opted to withdraw the death request regarding the murder of Brisenia Flores after consulting with the surviving victim, Gina Gonzalez.
Prior to pronouncing sentence, Leonardo was asked by Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay to impose natural life sentences for both murder convictions. “By case law, the court doesn’t need any aggravating factors,” he said. “The court may chose between natural life and or life with parole based on the facts that you heard at the trial.”
Defense counsel Jack L. Lansdale argued for life in prison with the possibility of parole and concurrent sentences for all of the charges. “In reality, when we’re dealing with this much time and a gentleman who was 42-years-old when he was taken into custody what we’re talking about may be academic,” he said. Lansdale calculated that the best-case scenario would allow his client to apply for parole after he had turned 77-years-old.
Sentences imposed Monday:
· Count 1—first-degree murder—natural life in prison, no parole opportunity.
· Count 2—first-degree murder—life in prison, with the opportunity to apply for parole after serving 25 calendar years.
· Count 3—burglary in the first degree—10.5 years.
· Count 4—attempted first-degree murder—10.5 years.
· Count 5—aggravated assault, serious physical injury—7.5 years.
· Count 6—aggravated assault with a deadly weapon—7.5 years.
· Count 7—armed robbery—10.5 years.
· Count 8—aggravated robbery—7.5 years.
The sentences for counts two through eight will be served consecutively to each other and to the sentence of natural life in prison received for count one. Depending upon how you choose to add it up the sentences for counts three through eight add up to an additional 54 years in prison. If you add the possibility of applying for parole after 25 years as the sentence in count two allows then Gaxiola received an additional 79 years in prison on top of the sentence to life in prison.
After the sentencing hearing Lansdale said there were plans for an appeal, but he was uncertain if he would handle it or another attorney would handle it. “I’d like to do it because we’re so familiar with the case,” he said.
Lansdale said the sentences Gaxiola received were what he had anticipated. “In the trial phase we hoped to raise a reasonable doubt, but we didn’t do that,” he said. “So, it was avoid the death penalty. What’s really the difference between 35 to life and natural life? He would get out when he’s 80-years-old.”
Gaxiola’s sister, Sonia Muniz flew in from California to attend the sentencing hearing. “I am relieved that Albert’s not on death row,” she said. “I will be with him to the end of this. I know he is innocent. He didn’t kill anyone.”
Gonzalez and members of her family had submitted letters containing sentencing recommendations to Leonardo prior to the hearing. The judge, who noted that the letters were “confidential,” denied a request for copies of those letters.
Previously, codefendant Shawna Forde received sentences of death on the two murder charges and an additional 65 years in prison for the other charges. Codefendant Jason Bush received two death sentences for the murder charges plus an additional 78 years in prison on the other charges.
At sentencing for Forde and Bush, Leonardo ordered $11,864 in restitution to Gonzalez and to her mother for funeral expenses and other costs. The amount of restitution had grown to over $13,000 as of Monday’s hearing. Leonardo gave the attorneys 30 days to work out the discrepancy.