KENNEWICK — A Kennewick man is going to prison for six years and nine months because he decided to rob a convenience store instead of asking his parents for money to get a driver's license.
Eduardo Alejandro Martinez apologized Friday for terrorizing the clerk in the late-night holdup, and acknowledged that if he commits one more serious crime he will be locked up for life.
The gang member, who just 2 1/2 weeks ago turned 19, already has two strikes under Washington's three-strikes law.
"I told him, 'This is it, this is it. You have to clean up your act and turn things around ... ' " attorney Scott Johnson told Judge Bruce Spanner about his client. "I honestly think that he gets it."
Martinez pleaded guilty in Benton County Superior Court to first-degree robbery with a deadly weapon enhancement and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.
His sentence includes a two-year mandatory term for the deadly weapon. He currently is serving a year for two residential burglary convictions, which Spanner said cannot be served at the same time as the new case. Martinez's first strike was for a first-degree burglary from 2009.
In this case, police and court documents state that he walked into the Max Mart on Fourth Avenue at 1 a.m. June 15 with a blue bandana over his face. He pointed a .22-caliber revolver at the clerk and ordered him to hand over the money.
The clerk reportedly had difficulty opening the cash register, and on the fourth attempt Martinez cocked the gun and said if it didn't happen this time, he would shoot the man, said Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long.
The clerk "was obviously terrified," Long said, but finally was able to open the drawer.
Martinez, who flashed gang signs during the robbery, then jumped in a car driven by Marcus H. Frank and the two drove off before Kennewick police arrived, documents said.
Frank, 19, was spotted by Prosser police driving alone in the Dodge Stratus about 45 minutes later, and led law enforcement on a chase into Yakima County with speeds reaching 100 mph, court documents said. He was caught when deputies used two spike strips around Grandview.
Frank reportedly identified Martinez as his accomplice, gave a description of his clothing and told officers where he had been dropped off after the robbery, documents said.
Martinez was arrested that afternoon at his mother's home. He wore the same clothes.
"The defendant has earned and deserves every one of those 81 months," Long said of the recommended sentence. "If this isn't the message that he needs, then I don't know what else will help him."
Johnson said his client had needed money to get a license so he could legally drive. But instead of asking his parents, he decided he would get it by force, which showed his immaturity and lack of ability to recognize right from wrong, Johnson said.
Johnson also pointed out how Martinez has had no support from his family, noting the empty courtroom.
Martinez and his lawyer agreed he earned the lengthy sentence and would serve it for his actions. "It's a serious case and it's a sad case. I hope it's not just lip service from Mr. Martinez ... and I honestly hope that he gets it," Johnson said.
Martinez told Spanner that after doing the time on his burglary conviction, he got out and wanted to make himself better, but had trouble finding a job because of his incomplete education and inability to afford a driver's license.
"I don't like asking my mom for money because she needs it for my little sisters," he said. "I can just tell you I'm sorry. If I could tell the victim, too, I'm sorry, but I guess I have a restraining order."
Spanner said he was troubled by the case because he had a friend who used to work in a convenience store and is no longer alive because "a fella like you went in there and killed him. ... So you probably can imagine how I feel about this kind of crime."
Were it not for the fact that Martinez was 18 when he robbed the store and now will spend "what should be the best years of your life" in prison, "I would have a hard time accepting this deal here," he said.
Martinez vowed to get his GED and participate in other programs while in prison. "I'm going to show you when I come out," he said.
"I really hope so because, as both attorneys have said, one more (crime) and goodbye for life," Spanner responded. "I hope you know that by sentencing you the way I did today, I'm expressing some hope for you. That is the hope."
Martinez was ordered to have no contact with the victim for the rest of his life.
Frank, of Kennewick, pleaded guilty in August to first-degree robbery and attempting to elude and was sentenced to a few years in prison, according to court records.
* Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org