Benton City teen sentenced to 13 years for murder (w/video)

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 6, 2014 

— James Edwards handed a Tri-City judge pictures of his slain brother Thursday, begging that the Benton City teen involved in the brutal slaying spend more time in prison.

"If (prosecutors) were doing their job correctly (two Benton City teens) would be doing life," James Edwards said after the hearing. "I wouldn't have had to come make an impact statement. They didn't do my brother, Mike, justice."

When Noel A. Gonzalez, 19, pleaded guilty last week for his role in Michael Edwards' murder in September, he admitted to knowing about a plan to rob Michael Edwards but said he wasn't present when he was killed.

In exchange for his guilty plea to second-degree murder and first-degree burglary, prosecutors recommended a 13-year term.

James Edwards told Judge Robert Swisher he thought the plea deal was a "gift."

"Mr. Gonzalez could be a young man when he gets out and could have time to murder again," he said.

Swisher listened intently to Edwards and other relatives during Thursday's hearing in Benton County Superior Court. Under state sentencing guidelines, Gonzalez faced a little more than 20 years but Swisher followed the prosecution's recommendation.

Swisher told Gonzalez there is no excuse for murder and no sentence he could impose could make the Edwards family feel any better.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez's friend and co-defendant, Noah M. Matlack, 19, is the one who killed Michael Edwards on Sept. 8 outside a Benton City church. Matlack is charged with first-degree murder and his trial is set for April.

An autopsy showed Edwards, 55, was cut and stabbed 26 times. His throat also was slashed.

The teens were arrested together at a truck stop in Oregon shortly after Edwards' body was found behind a shed. The teens were reportedly trying to sell rare coins that were stolen from Edwards' house. Gonzalez also admitted to taking a gun.

On Thursday, the Edwards family urged for a harsher sentence.

"I don't think 13 years begins to go where this young man needs to go," said Shelly Edwards, the victim's sister-in-law.

Gonzalez also spoke briefly, apologizing to the Edwards family for their "pain and suffering." His family members sat in the front row but did not speak.

"I am very sorry to the family that they lost their loved one," he said.

Benton County Sheriff's detectives wrote in court documents that Gonzalez accepted his role in the crimes and was sincerely upset about the death. He gave a statement to authorities implicating himself.

After the hearing, James Edwards dismissed Gonzalez's apology and said it was hard to stand next him.

"He is a zero to me," he said.

Gonzalez -- whose criminal history includes a felony harassment conviction in 2009 -- will be on community supervision for the rest of his life. The murder and burglary convictions are his first as an adult.

Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said Gonzalez is expected to remain in prison until he is at least 30.

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