A Fresno teenager was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years to life in prison for killing a gang rival in March 2008 in a case that put a judge in the spotlight because, while sitting as a juror, he sent out e-mails about the trial.
Ruben Ortiz, 19, sat silently in Fresno County Superior Court as his parents and lawyer said the killing of 15-year-old Chrisna Long was in self-defense. His parents also apologized to Long's family, who sat in the crowded courtroom, saying they hoped other parents learn from the senseless killing.
"We need to pay attention to what our children are doing at all times," said Ortiz's mother, Christina Hurtado.
Judge Arlan Harrell agreed, saying he can't understand how some teens turn to guns and violence.
In sentencing Ortiz, Harrell said he was bound by the jury's April 12 verdict, which found him guilty of second-degree murder. The panel also said the deadly shooting in southeast Fresno was to promote a criminal street gang. Ortiz received 15 years to life in prison for killing Long and 25 years to life for using a gun.
Police say Ortiz was a Bulldog gang member, and that Long belonged to the rival Asian Boyz. They confronted each other March 5, 2008, at Rowell and Hammond avenues. The case was decided by a jury that included Fresno County Superior Court Judge James Oppliger, a law clerk for a federal judge and a forensic pathologist.
After the verdict, defense attorney David Mugridge said Ortiz didn't get a fair trial, partly because Oppliger admitted to sending cell-phone e-mails from the courtroom to 22 other judges, including to Harrell.
The e-mails joked about the case and criticized Mugridge and prosecutor Lynmarc Jenkins. Mugridge complained that Harrell didn't tell him about the e-mails until after the verdict.
In addition, Josie Canel, a defense witness and a close friend of Ortiz, accused Oppliger of making a derogatory comment during jury selection.
But after a two-day hearing this week, Harrell found Canel's testimony not credible. In rejecting Mugridge's motion for a new trial, Harrell said Oppliger's e-mails were harmless, because he didn't discuss the evidence or express an opinion about Ortiz's guilt or innocence.
Mugridge said Wednesday that he plans to appeal Harrell's ruling.
Lost in the legal battle was a focus on the death of a teenager, said Julia King, who began raising Long when he was 12 years old.
"The Chrisna I knew was a young man with much integrity," King said. "He was going to school and getting good grades. He was not in a gang."