A Fresno man who was 16 when he participated in a 2016 botched robbery-turned homicide was sentenced Friday to 40-years-to-life in state prison.
Zachery Goodwin, now 20, was one of four people convicted in the fatal shooting of Michael Der Vartanian, 59, of Clovis.
Goodwin and his co-defendants were all teens when the crime happened. Because of that, Judge John F. Vogt wrestled with whether to grant leniency to Goodwin because of his age and childhood hardships.
Still, the judge determined public safety outweighed other factors. Thus, he agreed to give prosecutors the sentence they sought.
“Everyone who has sat in (the defendant’s seat) has a sad story,” Vogt said. “And Mr. Goodwin probably has one of the saddest.”
Goodwin will be eligible for parole after serving around 25 years in prison, according to Deputy District Attorney Ryan Wells, the prosecutor in the case.
Wearing a standard red jailhouse jumpsuit, with a mop of black hair on his head, Goodwin remained quiet during much of the hearing.
Vogt said he was troubled by a 22-page report from a social worker, hired by defense attorney Michael McKneely.
The report documented the struggles Goodwin endured growing up — a youth marred by physical abuse, being born premature, getting hit by a garbage truck and being raised in a home with drug and alcohol use.
“The 22-page report lays out in painful detail the path that brought Mr. Goodwin to Department 60,” said Vogt.
Goodwin admitted to living a life of rampant drug use and committing crimes.
“I don’t remember the last sober day I had before the shooting,” he wrote in a three-page letter to the judge. “I used each day, whatever people were willing to share with me. I drank, I smoked marijuana and I used methamphetamine and cocaine.”
In the letter, Goodwin wrote he and his co-defendants wanted to take Der Vartanian’s car so they could get to the defendant’s house faster — even though each had enough bus fare to get there.
Goodwin claimed he was pressured by two of his accomplices — Eddie Martinez and a juvenile — who’ve both been convicted for their part in the murder. Martinez was sentenced to nine years and eight months and the juvenile received 11 years in the state’s juvenile justice system.
A fourth accomplice, April Amey, a one-time teenage prostitute, has already served her four year sentence.
“They both told me, ‘McLovin (Goodwin’s nickname), you pull somebody out of the car and we’ll get off (drive away)‘” he wrote.
It didn’t happen that way. On Jan. 15, 2016, Der Vartanian was talking to Amey in central Fresno when Goodwin, armed with a gun, began approaching the victim’s black Mercedes.
Der Vartanian saw Goodwin and tried to speed away — surprising Goodwin, who fired several shots into the car. Der Vartanian was shot in the upper torso and left shoulder. He was taken to Community Regional Medical Center where he later died.
Family of victim speaks
Goodwin was found guilty in April of second degree murder, attempted robbery and discharging a firearm into an inhabited dwelling.
His father, Daniel Goodwin, pleaded with the judge to grant his son a second chance. He said Goodwin was “just a child” when he committed the crime and didn’t fully understand the consequences of what he had done.
“He is a kind-hearted soul who made a poor decision,” the father said. “He realizes now that what he did was really bad.”
McKneely urged the judge to give his client a 19-year sentence, allowing him to be eligible for a youth offender parole hearing after 15 years in prison.
Der Vartanian’s wife and mother said no amount of remorse for poor decision-making can bring back their loved one. They wanted the 40-to-life maximum.
“My life has been robbed of precious moments,” said Olga Der Vartanian. “I will not be able to see, touch or hug him anymore.”
After the hearing, Wells said he was pleased with outcome and understood Vogt’s difficulty in determining a sentence.
“He (Goodwin) had a tough childhood and the judge was aware of that,” Wells said. “But 40 years to life is the only just sentence.”