A homeless Fresno man who claimed he was only trying to get warm was sentenced Tuesday to 31 years and four months in prison for carjacking a Honda at gunpoint in December 2012.
Isaac Sanders, 33, maintained his innocence in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin, however, said Sanders’ account was one of the most absurd he ever has heard as a trial judge. Hamlin has been on the bench since 1998.
“It’s ridiculous from the onset,” Hamlin told the defendant. “You put children and the public at risk.”
In his trial in December, Sanders’ lawyer, Beth Ann Lee, told the jury that an unidentified carjacker took the car from two women and abandoned it moments later. She said Sanders saw the idling car and got in it to get warm.
Sanders drove away in the car and led police on a high-speed chase before crashing and suffering major head injuries.
It’s ridiculous from the onset. You put children and the public at risk.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin
Hamlin said Tuesday the jury got it right when it convicted Sanders.
“The evidence was strong,” he said, noting that witnesses saw Sanders carjack the Honda outside the Fresno Community Market at Blackstone and Illinois avenues, near Community Regional Medical Center, around 7 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2012.
Hamlin said Sanders fired one round in the air next to the ear of one of the victims. He then pointed the gun at the other victim.
A motorist saw the confrontation and called 911. Hamlin said the motorist put her life at risk following Sanders until police picked up the pursuit.
Sanders drove at “insane speeds” near Fresno Street and Belmont Avenue, the judge said. On Madison Avenue, an officer reported that the Honda hit a bump and the driver went airborne out of his seat. The chase ended when Sanders crashed into two trees near First Street and Illinois Avenue.
The next day, residents on Madison Avenue – where the Honda hit the bump – found a .25-caliber handgun. Police seized the gun as evidence and that day officers also found a shell casing at the crime scene. Ballistic testing showed that the spent shell casing came from the gun, prosecutor Dennis Verzosa told the jury during the trial.
In court Tuesday, Sanders’ sister, Regina Rodriguez, asked Hamlin to have mercy on her brother.
She said she and Sanders and three other siblings share the same mother, but have different fathers. “I was born a drug baby,” Rodriguez told the judge.
Fortunately, Rodriguez said, she was adopted and her adopted parents raised her to love God and be good. Sanders, however, wasn’t as fortunate, Rodriguez said. He lived in foster homes and suffers from mental illness, she said.
Hamlin said Sanders’ life is a tragedy “and his upbringing brought him here.” In announcing the punishment, Hamlin ordered that Sanders receive mental health treatment while in prison.
“I wish I could unwind it, but I can’t excuse his conduct,” the judge said.