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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
One of two defendants involved in a melee outside a northeast Bakersfield restaurant that left one man dead and another paralyzed was sentenced Thursday morning to seven years in prison.
Victor Manuel Palomares, 21, showed no emotion as Kern County Superior Court Judge Gary T. Friedman pronounced sentence for Palomares' role in the March 12, 2011 attack outside Maria Bonita Restaurant at 10701 Highway 178. Palomares had originally been charged with murder, a charge which was dismissed, and then was acquitted of attempted murder when a jury convicted him instead on the lesser charge of attempted voluntary manslaughter Nov. 6.
He was also convicted of participating in a criminal street gang and assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun, according to court records.
Benjamin R. Greene, Palomares' attorney, said afterward the outcome was overall a positive one for Palomares considering at one point he faced life in prison.
"On balance, it's a victory," Greene said.
Prosecutor David McKillop said he'd wanted a lengthier sentence, but he respects the court's decision. He said that, contrary to a letter written by Palomares that was read in court, he never saw Palomares show any remorse for his actions.
McKillop also said the letter sounded like it was written by someone other than Palomares.
Sentencing for co-defendant Oscar J. Martinez was postponed to Dec. 14 at the request of attorney Douglas Moffat in order to allow Moffat time to complete additional court filings. Martinez faces a life sentence after being convicted of murder, two counts of attempted murder, possession of a gun by a felon and participating in a criminal street gang.
While Martinez was convicted of firing the gun that killed 21-year-old Andre Onsurez, Palomares was found to have stabbed a man five times during the fight. That person suffered serious injuries but survived.
Greene argued that Palomares' previous lack of a criminal record and remorse over the incident made him a candidate for probation. He said Palomares acted in self-defense during the fight.
He read a letter written by Palomares in which the defendant said he was hoping to receive a short sentence so he could return to helping ill family members. Palomares apologized in the letter to the victims and their families.
Friedman, however, noted no apology nor sense of remorse in reports detailing Palomares' interview with probation officers.
"He doesn't seem very apologetic there, does he?" Friedman asked Greene.
The attorney explained his client truly is sorry, and had wanted to clarify his emotions in the letter.
McKillop said in court that Palomares deserved significant time in prison because of his status as a gang member and the sophistication of the attack, in which Palomares reacted quickly with his knife and another gang member had a getaway car at the ready. Friedman agreed with McKillop's assessment that the gang members showed a degree of sophistication.
Palomares will have to register as a gang member upon his release.
All charges against a Jered Caywood, a third defendant who was originally charged with murder, were dismissed.
Police have said there was an organized birthday celebration at the restaurant the day of the shooting. A pre-existing dispute between a partygoer and a patron led to an argument and a plan to fight once the restaurant closed.
Several fights broke out in the parking lot and Onsurez, an innocent bystander, was shot and killed. Relatives have said Onsurez, a 2009 graduate of Garces Memorial High School, enjoyed wrestling and soccer and had many friends.
Family members of Onsurez declined to comment after Thursday's sentencing, as did a man who identified himself as Martinez's brother.