Tuesday, 22 June 1999

Hit man Sanchez sentenced to life without parole

By Inger Sandal
The Arizona Daily Star

Ronald Kerns walked out of court feeling cheated yesterday after a judge sentenced his son's convicted killer to life without parole.

``This boy should have been sentenced to die,'' Kerns said of Jesus Leonardo Sanchez, 21, who was convicted of first-degree murder in two shooting deaths.

Prosecutors maintain that Sanchez and another man mistakenly killed Kern's son, Ronald Lee Lopez, 21, on July 7, 1997 after they were hired to avenge a drug ripoff.

According to reports, Lopez was working on his car when he was caught in a barrage of gunfire because the gunmen targeted the wrong house.

Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay said the gunmen kidnapped a friend's uncle, Ricardo Norzagaray, 35, from his family's home three nights later and executed him to send a message because they hadn't been paid for the first shooting. Unklesbay called both victims innocent.

``I'm not very satisfied,'' said Norzagaray's widow, Esthela, who also wanted Sanchez sentenced to death. Instead, she said, ``he's going to be in prison - looking at the sun, eating, breathing, seeing his family.''

Sanchez reasserted his innocence yesterday while reading aloud a letter to Judge Gilbert Veliz of Pima County Superior Court.

``I would like you to know that I didn't kill anybody. . . . You will sentence an innocent man,'' he said.

Sanchez told the judge he has a wife and a son he's never held because of his incarceration since April 1997.

``It's very painful for me and I know it's painful for my family. Your honor, I pray every night to God so he can do justice and catch the real people or person responsible for these crimes. Your honor, I can imagine what the victim's family is going through - the reason why I can feel their pain is because my life as well is gone.''

Judge Veliz told Sanchez he had no doubt that he committed the murders or was at least an active participant.

However,the judge also said that because Sanchez had lost six loved ones to violent deaths by age 17 - four to shootings, one to a car wreck and one to an overdose, Sanchez needed longtime psychological treatment.

Veliz ordered Sanchez to begin serving his life sentence at the end of the 15 years he currently serves for being caught in a violent home invasion.

An accused accomplice in that invasion, Cecil Rodriguez, remains a fugitive.

Still, Sanchez could face additional murder charges in the future in conjunction with other shootings.

Prosecutors asked that charges be dropped against Sanchez until a witness is found in a September 1996 shooting that killed brothers Ramon Leon Hernandez, 43, and Cesar Leon Hernandez, 45. Charges were also dropped in the May 17, 1997 shooting death of 19-year-old Shawn Trujillo.