A judge scolded a Fresno teenager Friday for shoving a gun into the mouth of World War II veteran Josef Martin and pistol-whipping him during a home-invasion robbery in October 2013, and then sentenced him to 17 years in prison.
“It’s inconceivable to me how you could inflict senseless violence on a 91-year-old man,” Judge Kimberly Gaab told Dezman Kenner.
Gaab declared the 18-year-old Kenner a danger to the community before sentencing him to prison.
Kenner, wearing shackles on his hands and legs, said nothing on his behalf in Fresno County Superior Court.
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The sentencing ends a terrorizing episode in the life of Josef Martin, a decorated Army soldier who survived the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, but was beaten inside his Fresno home during the early hours of Oct. 23, 2013.
During the home-invasion robbery, Gaab said, Kenner pointed a gun at Martin’s head, roughed-up the veteran in his bedroom, and threatened to kill him. He then shoved the gun in Martin’s mouth, pistol-whipped him and stuck him in a closet while two accomplices ransacked the home.
Martin, now 93, did not attend Friday’s hearing; prosecutor Timothy Donovan said Martin is still suffering from nightmares.
But if he had been there, he would have given Kenner an earful, the prosecutor said. “He’s feisty as ever,” Donovan said.
Kenner, who was 16 at the time of the attack, was one of three teens to face charges. Keith Scott, who was 15 at the time of the attack, and a 12-year-old boy confessed to their involvement.
The 12-year-old was sentenced to a year in the Juvenile Justice Center as part of a rehabilitation program for pre-adolescents. The Bee does not identify minors who are tried as juveniles.
Because of the seriousness of the crime, Kenner and Scott were tried in adult court.
While Scott has pleaded guilty to felony home-invasion robbery (He faces up to five years in juvenile prison when he is sentenced this month), Kenner always contended that he’s not guilty. His mother, Shamae Judge, also urged her son to fight the charges.
Kenner started to consider a plea deal after Martin testified against him last May at a preliminary hearing.
“That’s the son of a bitch that beat me up,” Martin said while staring right at Kenner.
Martin also accused Kenner’s lawyer, Curtis Sok, of trying to trick him during cross-examination: “You’re trying to fool my mind. I told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Martin never wavered from his account of how an intruder woke him up by putting a gun into his rib cage. The intruder then pressed the gun against Martin’s face, cutting his right cheek, and put the gun in Martin’s mouth.
Martin testified he could feel the barrel go across his lower lip, hurting his teeth and jaw.
And during the attack, Martin said he pleaded with the gunman: “Please don’t hurt me,” but the gunman did it anway.
Martin’s account was corroborated in court by Scott and the 12-year-old.
Scott said he saw Kenner “hit the old man in the face with the gun and put the gun in his mouth.” The 12-year-old said he saw Kenner argue with the “old man” and said Martin had a bloody face and had tears rolling down his cheeks.
They admitted to taking $400 from Martin’s wallet and a ring off his finger.
If Kenner had been convicted at trial, he would have faced about 25 years. On the eve of his trial in November, he pleaded no contest to home invasion robbery while using a gun and inflicting great bodily injury on an elderly victim.
Outside court Friday, Kenner’s mother said she still believes her son is innocent: “He has never hit a girl, so why would he beat up an elderly man?” At the time of the attack on Martin, she said, her son was with her at her home with his girlfriend. “I know people won’t believe me because I am his mother, but that’s the truth.”
Donovan, however, said there was ample evidence to prove Kenner was the main culprit in the home-invasion robbery. He credited Jimmy Olson, a senior investigator with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, for tracking down witnesses who led authorities to Kenner.
“Hopefully, Mr. Martin will have some piece of mind,” Donovan said.
Hoping to ease the public’s fears, Donovan said, “These types of crimes are despicable, but rare. But when they do happen, the public can be assured that law enforcement will marshal all of its resources to bring them to justice.”