A former Grandview man locked up for life for a murder when he was 15 is facing a new sentence.
Jose Angel Munguia, now 33, had hoped a judge would find he's done enough time since the 1997 killing and let him walk free in the near future.
But Benton County prosecutors want to keep Munguia in prison longer, and now they have a recent legal decision to support their fight.
The case is headed back to court because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision to throw out mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole for juveniles because they amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
About 30 cases statewide were affected by that decision, which stemmed from Alabama and Arkansas appeals.
Munguia's was the only case out of Benton-Franklin Superior Court.
As those convicted killers have awaited review and reduction of their sentences, the Washington State Legislature responded this past session with new sentencing guidelines for juveniles convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.
On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court said that legislative fix remedies the unlawfulness of the life terms by automatically entitling those offenders to resentencing "in a manner that does not violate the Constitution's Eighth Amendment."
Under the new guidelines, the minimum term would be an indeterminate sentence of at least 25 years. Prosecutors can argue mitigating factors to get more time, which can include a maximum life sentence.
The recent state Supreme Court opinion was in response to petitions filed by two Yakima County men who were 17 when they killed an elderly couple during a robbery.
Petitions filed by others, like Munguia, were put on hold by the high court until the Yakima cases were decided.
Those two defendants have 20 days to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider or -- if no motions are filed in that time -- the decision will be finalized. Then the stay will be lifted on Munguia's petition and the Supreme Court can consider whether to hear arguments on it.
Eventually, Munguia will return to Benton County Superior Court.
When Judge Vic VanderSchoor sentenced Munguia in 1998, he had no option under Washington law but to sentence the teen to life.
Munguia was 15 in July 1997 when he shot Guivi Darbeliani three times in the head and dumped him in an irrigation canal after trying to rob the man. Munguia and his two accomplices had lured Darbeliani into a remote orchard to take his sports car, which they then drove around for a few days.
Darbeliani, 27, was an immigrant, a popular teacher's aide and a community volunteer in Prosser.
Munguia claimed self-defense, but a Benton County jury a year later convicted him of aggravated first-degree murder because of the robbery motive. He berated police and the judicial system, saying he was shocked that for going to police to try to straighten things out he was going to end up spending life behind bars.
In his petition -- filed before the legislative fix -- Munguia asked to be sentenced within the standard range for first-degree murder. That is 20 to 27 years, and if Munguia received time on the low end he could be released soon with credit for good behavior.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller is happy about the state Supreme Court's decision because Munguia's new sentence will be at least 25 years, he said. He can ask for an exceptional sentence because of the aggravating circumstances.
"This does give the judge discretion to look at the facts of the case that made it not your normal (first-degree) murder case," Miller told the Herald.
Miller feels comfortable with the resentencing procedure as it stands now, and thinks there is a good chance of justice still being done for the victim, he said.
Munguia is incarcerated in a prison outside of Washington. He was moved seven months ago as part of the state Department of Correction's Interstate Compact process, which oftentimes is for security reasons.
A department spokesman on Friday didn't know the reason for Munguia's transfer.
He had been at Monroe Correctional Complex until February, and previously was at Clallam Bay Corrections Center on the Olympic Peninsula.