He gave a tearful apology for shooting a Fresno man in the back. Did it sway the judge?

Joe Angel Delacruz in police booking photo. He avoided spending life in prison Tuesday after a jury deadlocked on an attempted murder charge against him.
Joe Angel Delacruz in police booking photo. He avoided spending life in prison Tuesday after a jury deadlocked on an attempted murder charge against him. Fresno Police Department

Joe Angel Delacruz, who was convicted in October for shooting a man in west central Fresno, was sentenced to 26 years in prison on Thursday.

The 27-year-old Delacruz cried softly as he looked out in the courtroom and saw nearly a dozen of his friends and family members sitting in the audience.

He offered a brief, tearful apology to his victim, the victim’s family and to his own family for his crimes.

Delacruz was convicted Oct. 8 for assault with a semi-automatic firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

He was charged with shooting Francis Howard on Sept. 12, 2017. Howard, 24, was shot twice, once in the thigh and once in the back, while standing outside his apartment on North Marks Avenue near Dakota Avenue.

Delacruz’s defense attorney Miles Harris argued his client fired at Howard in self defense. Prosecutor Andrew Janz tried to convince the jury Delacruz was angry that night and was looking to confront Howard’s younger brother, with whom he had a beef.

Instead, Howard and Delacruz argued and Howard was shot.

The jury deadlocked on the more serious charge of attempted murder, with eight jurors voting for guilty and four not guilty. Although Delacruz dodged a possible life in prison sentence, he still faced up to 32 years in prison.

Judge Alvin Harrell III read several letters from family members who urged him to give Delacruz some leniency. The letters detailed Delacruz’s troubled life growing up. His parents died when he was young, he was raised in foster care and has struggled with substance abuse, Harrell said.

Harrell also took note of Delacruz’s friends and family in the courtroom.

“He is very fortunate to have so many people supporting him,” the judge said. “It is heartfelt that you are here on his behalf.”

But Harrell also couldn’t look past how Delacruz has behaved as an adult.

He is a felon with convictions for vandalism, battery of a spouse, and shooting into an occupied home. He was also arrested for evading an officer.

“What the court sees is that we have an individual who had a horrible childhood,” Harrell said. “But not everyone who has had a horrible childhood turns out to be someone who victimizes society repeatedly.”

Still,, Harrell was slightly sympathetic to Delacruz giving him 26 years instead of the max of 32 years. He will have to serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole.

The judge also took a moment to respond to Delacruz’s outbursts during the trial. Delacruz grew frustrated over the judge overruling his lawyer’s objections. At one point, Delacruz told the judge directly, “I don’t like you.”

Harrell explained his role as a judge is to be as neutral as possible. He likened his job to that of an umpire, who calls balls and strikes as he sees them. He told Delacruz there was never anything personal against him.

“You have always gotten a fair shake in this court,” Harrell said.

No one was present from the victim’s family. But that wasn’t an accident.

“They are very interested in the outcome and they wanted me to communicate that to you,” Janz said. “But they are also still living in fear.”

A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.