Crime

Fresno man sentenced for fatal stabbing as dead man’s family sobs

Christian Joel Medina, 20, left, sits with his defense attorney during a sentencing hearing in Fresno County Superior Court on Thursday. Judge Arlan L. Harrell sentenced Medina to 16 years to life in prison for stabbing Leonel Ortega, 27, to death in February 2013.
Christian Joel Medina, 20, left, sits with his defense attorney during a sentencing hearing in Fresno County Superior Court on Thursday. Judge Arlan L. Harrell sentenced Medina to 16 years to life in prison for stabbing Leonel Ortega, 27, to death in February 2013. rsyed@fresnobee.com

A Fresno man convicted of stabbing a 27-year-old man to death was sentenced Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court to 16 years to life in prison during an emotional hearing with more than a half-dozen relatives of the victim speaking.

Christian Joel Medina, 20, stabbed Leonel Ortega in February 2013 at an apartment building near Marks and McKinley avenues, west of Highway 99, after Ortega said to him, “What’s up, dog?” Medina, then 17, interpreted the phrase as a challenge to fight, prosecutor William Terrence said.

Medina was arrested the day after the stabbing at the group home where he lived. Officers searched Medina’s room and found a 10-inch hunting knife in the closet.

Medina was given credit for 1,199 days and also ordered by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Arlan L. Harrell to pay over $10,000 in restitution, with some of that going to a victims compensation and government claims board.

“This is a sad case – someone lost their life,” Fresno defense attorney Linden Lindahl said. “To me, what makes this even sadder is the fact that my client was a minor at the time.”

Medina was a member of the Norteños street gang. But Medina said he dropped out of the gang in January 2013. Ortega was not a gang member.

Numerous relatives of Ortega talked about how the slaying affected them, and 20 relatives were present during sentencing. The sound of family members crying was audible during the hearing.

“I cannot bring my little Leo back no matter what I do,” said Frances Pena, Ortega’s paternal grandmother. “But one thing I can do is ask for justice in his name.”

“The day you took my cousin, you took a peacemaker,” said Henry Amador. “I’m going to be honest with you – you took someone that really, really would give the shirt off his back for you, for anybody.

“The day you took my cousin, God was on your side,” Amador said. “If it was me there, you’d be in the opposite place. I’d be sitting where you are and you’d be where my cousin’s at.”

“My little cousin – he was anything but a gang member,” said Daniel Garcia, his voice rising with anger at times. “I don’t want him (Medina) to have that satisfaction in his head, when he gets to prison and telling people why he’s there, that he killed a gang member.

“The truth of the matter is, he killed a father of a daughter,” Garcia said. “He killed an only son.”

Medina addressed Ortega’s family during the hearing. “I do want to say that I’m sorry to the family, and that I wish this had never happened,” Medina said. “I know they might not believe me or even care, but it’s the truth.”

But Harrell cited Medina’s bad decision-making as the reason for the slaying. “The bottom line is, whether you are or were a gang member, you took another person’s life really over something as stupid as someone saying, ‘What’s up, dog? Do you bang?’ ” the judge said. “It is really difficult to not look out across this courtroom and see the number of lives you affected, and not wonder, ‘What is wrong with you?’ 

Razi Syed: 559-441-6679, @razisyed

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