A Lodi man convicted of murdering an 18-year-old woman and wounding her boyfriend as the couple arrived home from a date in 2012 received a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 50 years on Monday.
Miguel Araiza Jr., 18, made his first appearance in San Joaquin County Superior Court since being convicted in December 2013 of several charges, including the first-degree murder of Angelica Osorio, attempted murder, possession of methamphetamine and committing a crime for the benefit of a street gang.
Unlike previous court appearances, when he dressed in a collared shirt and khakis, Araiza, escorted by four bailiffs, arrived in shackles and a red jumpsuit. His mother, sister and more than 15 of his teary-eyed family members and friends were in attendance.
Lodi police arrested Araiza days after he ambushed Osorio and her boyfriend around 10 p.m. in March 2012 in Lodi.
During a month-long trial, no physical evidence was presented that could be tied directly to Araiza. However, Osorio’s boyfriend identified Araiza as the shooter hours after the shooting and again during the trial.
The boyfriend, who Deputy District Attorney Janet Smith asked remain anonymous because of concerns for his safety, testified that Araiza believed he was a member of a rival gang, though the boyfriend had not been in a gang for several years.
Monday was the first opportunity in nearly two years for family and friends to speak about Osorio in court and to address Araiza. Her mother, Elvira Teran, discussed the pain she has suffered since her daughter was gunned down.
“(Araiza) took away the light of my life,” Teran wrote in a letter, which Smith read in front of the court.
As the oldest child, Osorio tirelessly helped her single mother raise her younger siblings, Teran wrote.
She was also enrolled in her first year at San Joaquin Delta College, and dreamed of becoming a nurse.
“She was a kind, loving person,” Smith read, as Teran stood beside her, wiping away tears.
Brenda Osorio also wrote a letter describing how she looked up to her older sister.
“I looked up to her and she was my role model,” Brenda wrote.
During the hearing, Smith and defense attorney Jennifer Perkins argued at length whether Araiza deserved a mandatory life sentence based on the fact he was a minor — 17 years old — at the time of the murder.
Smith said that Araiza’s act of ambushing the couple and opening fire based solely on his belief that Osorio’s boyfriend was a rival gang member makes him a cold-blooded murderer incapable and undeserving of redemption.
She called his actions “calculated” and “purposeful,” and added that in the nearly two years he’s been in San Joaquin County Jail, Araiza has neither left the gang life nor shown remorse for murdering Osorio.
“He doesn’t have the capacity to change,” Smith said. “Now is the time we need to protect the community from him.”
Perkins said Araiza spent his childhood trying to handle being abandoned by his father at an early age in Mexico. She also cited the finding of a court-appointed psychiatrist, who diagnosed Araiza with a personality disorder that Perkins did not identify.
“He’s trying to show he can change,” Perkins said. “Don’t give up on Mr. Araiza.”
Many states, including California, are discussing the appropriateness of mandatory life sentences for minors, and before announcing his ruling, sentencing judge William Johnson said the nationwide debate is leaning toward allowing juveniles the ability to earn parole.
He cited several cases, in which judges mentioned immaturity, impulsivity, and being more prone to negative influences than adults as reasons minors should be afforded the ability to earn a second chance.
“It was a cold, calculated attack,” Johnson said. “It was a cowardly attack.”
But Johnson added that juveniles have “greater prospects for reform.”
As bailiffs escorted Araiza out of the courtroom, he looked toward Osorio’s family, smiling and laughing.
“He still thought it was all funny and that he got off,” Smith said. “That just solidified why my request for a life sentence without the possibility of parole was appropriate.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.