When three Juneau teenagers pelted passing cars with rocks two summers ago, they didn’t learn until later that one of the rocks maimed and permanently disfigured a 6-year-old boy.
Each expressed horror after hearing the news.
In his sentencing hearing earlier this month, 19-year-old Jared H. Cheatham said he was disgusted with himself and couldn’t even look in a mirror. Chaleb E. Calandra, 20, broke down in tears during his sentencing last fall and profusely apologized to the boy and his family between sobs.
The self-loathing continued Wednesday when the third and final teen, Noel Toribio, was sentenced for felony assault in connection to the July 2012 incident.
“Being in jail is not as bad as having a scar on your face for the rest of your life,” Toribio, who turns 19 next month, told Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez during allocution. “It’s pretty good punishment. That’s all I got to say.”
Wednesday’s hearing marked an end to the legal proceedings in the case, which has dragged out over two years. The cases were severed rather than joined, meaning each teen was represented by a different attorney and each case moved at its own pace.
The teenagers were charged as adults for injuring the 6-year-old, who was sitting in the back seat of a car that was driving on Mendenhall Loop Road near the Stephen Richard Memorial Drive intersection when a rock the size of a softball came crashing through one of the windows.
The boy was sprayed with glass, and the physical injuries and emotional trauma he suffered was “nothing short of horrifying,” assistant district attorney Amy Williams told the court previously.
He had shards of glass removed from his eye; he required 17 stitches for the lacerations on his face; he sustained facial fractures and injured muscles that caused facial drooping; he will have permanent facial scarring; he still has night terrors and is still emotionally recovering from the event, according to his adopted mother.
At the time, Toribio was 16, a month shy of turning 17. Cheatham was 17, and Calandra was 18.
Toribio and Cheatham tried to get their cases dismissed through their attorneys, citing the fact that prosecutors did not know who threw the “offending rock” that injured the boy, but the judge denied those motions. (Calandra didn’t join in on that motion practice since he was facing additional charges in an unrelated case.)
Cheatham later tried to get his case transferred down to the juvenile justice system to allow him to serve the jail time in a youth facility rather than adult prison. Menendez refused to do so, given the seriousness of the offense.
In the end, each of the defendants took identical plea deals offered by the state and received identical sentences imposed by Judge Menendez: a felony conviction for second-degree assault, a year to serve in prison with three more years hanging over their heads and four years of supervised probation after their release from prison.
Williams, who handled all three cases for the state, and defense attorney Kirsten Swanson agreed on Wednesday that sentence was a strong penalty for the youthful offenders, none of whom had served time in prison before.
Swanson emphasized that her client, just as the other two had said during their hearings, never intended to hurt anyone.
“Certainly, it wasn’t malicious,” she said to Menendez, “... and certainly, he did not intend to injure somebody, but it was a reckless and stupid act.”
In a letter penned to the court, the boy’s mother did not specify what sentence she would like the defendants to receive. She wrote that at one time, the boy asked her, “Mom, do you hate these boys for hurting me?”
“I said I may be upset but I don’t know these young men, and I don’t wish them to have a hard life,” the mother wrote, “But I also know with any actions taken that is wrong always has consequences that (they) will need to stand accountable for.”
The 6-year-old wasn’t the only victim affected by the rock-throwing incident; the boys had thrown multiple rocks at multiple vehicles after stealing a 6-pack of beer that was found unopened.
Velma Paul, 57, testified at both Toribio’s and Cheatham’s sentencing hearings that she was terrified when a rock struck her car. She had no idea what had hit her vehicle, she said.
“It just scared me,” she said. “It was frightening.”
She noted her car was a brand new Dodge van that she drove out of the lot just a couple days before.
In addition to the jail and probation sentence, the defendants are required to pay restitution and write letters of apologies to the victims.
Toribio was fingerprinted and handcuffed at the end of Wednesday’s hearing and taken to Lemon Creek Correctional Center. He also had a $100 warrant out for his arrest for missing a compliance hearing earlier this month for another case, misdemeanor theft for shoplifting. Swanson said he forgot to show up, although she noted that was no excuse. The judge executed that warrant before the hearing adjourned.