A 17-year-old, who twice stabbed a man during a possibly gang-related altercation Nov. 8 in Vancouver's Rose Village neighborhood, got a second chance at rehabilitation Tuesday when a judge sentenced him to three years in a juvenile detention facility.
The victim, Baron Dukes, 32, sustained minor stab wounds to his side, none of which was life-threatening, said Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Dan Gasperino.
Martin Minjarez's case was automatically sent to adult court because of its violent nature. He had faced up to 13 years in prison had he been convicted of his original charge of first-degree assault.
But a group of several public servants who had worked with Minjarez in the past and seen his potential to reform intervened to try to prevent that outcome. They included employees from Juvenile Court and his teachers.
They spoke to Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson on his behalf Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon enhancement. They asked that Minjarez be allowed to serve his sentence in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration detention center instead of an adult prison.
"If we send him to the adult system, we will get back a very angry young man," said Juvenile Court probation counselor Kellie Henderson.
Minjarez, who was escorted in shackles into the courtroom before the hearing, started to sob when he saw the outpouring of support from his teachers and Juvenile Court counselors.
Martinez was born into "a gang-infested setting," said his attorney, Gerry Wear. He and members of his family have ties to the Soreno gang, court documents said.
An attempted first-degree assault conviction landed Minjarez in juvenile detention, where, separated from the gang culture, he seemed to thrive, Wear said.
After his release, he continued to attend classes to earn his GED and worked on improving himself until the Nov. 8 incident, the Juvenile Court employees said.
In 2012, his cousin was paralyzed from gunshot wounds sustained in a gang shooting, said Henderson. The same year, Minjarez was with a friend when gangsters drove by them and shot his friend. His mother also moved to Montana with his siblings but left him behind, Henderson said.
Despite the turmoil in his personal life, he was always first to show up at class, said his teacher, Erica Nicewonger. He showed her respect, and he was eager to learn, she said.
"This is not a kid we want to lose," she said. "I have told him every day he is going to go to a university. We can't give up on him."
The Nov. 8 stabbing took place at 2008 St. Johns Road during a disagreement, involving as many as 30 people, over possibly stolen property, according to court documents.
Henderson said Minjarez took responsibility for the assault by turning himself in.
Gasperino said those voices of support, as well as concerns that Minjarez might successfully launch a self-defense argument, persuaded him to strike the plea bargain.
"I don't think I've ever seen such an outpouring of responsible people who have come forward to speak on your behalf," Johnson said. "It is very moving to me, and I can see it is to you, too."
She advised Minjarez to remember them as he moves forward.
"This is your life," she said. "Each day is an opportunity to make your own future, and I hope you keep that in mind."