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Soto faces 45 years for crimes

Murder defendant may appeal

Posted: Monday, March 12, 2001

Rey Joel Soto has been sentenced to serve 45 years in prison for killing Kenneth Thomas and for his role in the robbery and beating of Alfred Torres Sr. 15 months ago outside a mobile home near Willoughby Avenue.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks sentenced Soto, 21, to 50 years in prison with 20 years suspended for second-degree murder, 15 years with five years suspended for first-degree robbery, and five years for first-degree assault. The sentences, handed down Friday, are to be served one after the other, for a total of 45 years.

"At this point he is intent on appealing his sentence as being excessive and not intent on appealing his conviction," Soto's trial attorney, Michael O'Brien, said today. Soto will be appointed an appeals attorney.

A jury in December found Soto and Ronald E. Smith, 33, guilty of those charges. The second-degree murder charge refers to causing a death while participating in another serious felony, in this case a robbery. Smith's sentencing is scheduled for April 19.

They faced maximum penalties of 99 years for the murder conviction, and 20 years each for the other charges.

At his sentencing, Soto said Smith brought a borrowed shotgun to the trailer in the early morning of Jan. 25, 2000, and Soto had a baseball bat. Smith was asking for money and drugs, Soto said.

Torres, at the trailer's door, grabbed the shotgun's barrel and was pulled outside, Soto said at Friday's sentencing. Thomas screamed, Soto said, and Soto hit Thomas with the bat. Thomas never got back on his feet, Soto said.

Thomas, 36, was flown to an Anchorage hospital and died from a severe head injury the next day. Torres, Thomas' half-brother, was injured. Although Soto denied he hit Torres, some of Torres' blood was on the bat.

Assistant District Attorney Susan McLean didn't ask for a specific sentence but wanted Soto to serve 55 years for the murder.

"As I viewed the evidence, there was never a situation where Mr. Soto had to use the bat," she said today. "He used the bat before anyone tried to defend themselves."

At his sentencing, Soto read a poem he wrote to Thomas. Soto said he sees Thomas' face when he wakes up and goes to sleep and asks for forgiveness.

"Those that lost you suffer more than me because they knew a part of you I never got to see," Soto said. "I let the world know that there is something worse than prison. It's having to know somebody else is not living."

Defense attorney O'Brien said today, "I really believe he feels horrible about it happening, and never went to that scene intending to kill anyone. The problem with robbery is it's a violent crime and it can spiral out of control, and that's what happened here."

O'Brien argued Friday that two factors lessened Soto's crimes: Soto was a youthful defendant who was influenced by an older defendant, and Soto has provided authorities with useful information in other cases. Judge Weeks agreed with the latter argument.

O'Brien also argued that Soto should have been given concurrent sentences for the robbery and murder because they were part of one criminal enterprise. That could have reduced the sentence's total length.

Weeks agreed with prosecutor McLean that three factors made the crimes worse: the robbery was the most serious type of robbery, more than three people (who were in the trailer) were placed in danger of physical injury, and there was more than one victim.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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