A convicted kidnapper said Thursday that he hopes a Kennewick family gets justice one day for being terrorized in their home, but maintained that he wasn’t part of it.
Vicente Guizar Figueroa told a judge that he too is hoping for justice in appealing his guilty verdicts for the February 2011 crime.
“I want to say I’m sorry for what happened to the Welsh family,” Figueroa said. “I know I was found guilty (by a jury), but that doesn’t make me guilty, your honor. That doesn’t mean I was there.”
“What happened to them was really unfair, but this is really unfair to me, too,” he added.
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Judge Vic VanderSchoor ordered Figueroa to serve 50 years in prison for forcing his way into the family’s home and ordering the father to open his jewelry store.
Figueroa, 21, of California, was convicted in Benton County Superior Court of first-degree robbery, vehicle theft, two counts of first-degree burglary and five counts of first-degree kidnapping.
He already is serving almost 30 years for a nearly identical robbery outside Bakersfield. He will finish that sentence before being returned to Washington state to do the additional time.
Of the 50-year Washington term, 20 years must be served without any credit for good behavior. That’s because he was armed with a gun during the home invasion and when helping steal $370,000 in diamonds, precious gemstones and gold from Touchstone Jewelers.
Defense attorney Catherine Harkins asked for a sentence below the standard range of 49 1/2 years, because her client was 15 at the time of the crime.
She cited Washington case law in noting that VanderSchoor could consider poor judgment, susceptibility to outside influences and youth.
“The jury didn’t find whether or not he’d been one of the people planning or if he had some small part,” Harkins said.
The jury felt he had something to do with the crime as an accomplice, and the fact his fingerprints were found in the victim’s vehicle, she said.
If Figueroa had been arrested in 2011 and the case had remained in the juvenile system, he would have been looking at six to 10 years, Harkins said.
“He’s going to be (in a California prison) for a long time anyway, at least 20 more years. Anything beyond that, is it really going to serve any punishment or any determent?” she said.
“I know the victims, I’m sure, want him to pay for what he’s done. But doing more than 29 years is also not going to give them any extra relief, I don’t think,” she added.
Figueroa also faces deportation to Mexico once he has served all his time.
Though Figueroa was one of three gunmen in the Kennewick home invasion, no one else has been charged.
Prosecutors have “a strong suspicion” that his older brother, Humberto Guizar-Figueroa, also was a participant since he was convicted in the California case. However, there is no physical evidence, fingerprints or DNA linking him to the scene.
The fingerprints of Vicente Figueroa — who also has been identified as Vincente — were found on three pieces of paper left behind in Mark Welsh’s abandoned car after the store robbery.
That paper reportedly was on a clipboard Figueroa and another suspect used as they claimed to be with a power company and asked to get inside the Kennewick home to check some things.
They were told to come back later, but pushed their way inside and pulled out guns while donning face masks.
The men held Mark Welsh’s wife, two daughters and young grandson hostage until Welsh came home. Then, as a third man watched the family, the first two suspects took Welsh to the Clearwater Avenue store in Marineland Village and ordered him to disarm the alarm, turn off the lights and open the safe.
The robbers took the entire inventory, which was never recovered.
Figueroa and his brother had visited their mother at her Grandview home in 2011, and used her SUV to drive together down to California in the late spring.
The brothers are charged in Yakima with a similar crime involving the owner of a pawn shop in January 2011.
Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said Welsh is “being very practical” and not asking for restitution. However, Bloor told the judge to leave that option open for six months in case Welsh changes his mind.
Bloor read letters in court from Welsh’s two daughters about the traumatizing experience.
Mackenzie Welsh said she cannot imagine how Figueroa feels facing so much time behind bars, but said his conviction does not bring her any relief, satisfaction or joy.
“It’s heartbreaking … because I know that you are better than what you did,” Mackenzie Welsh wrote. “Vincente, you were made for more than crime and prison. You are valuable … and worthy of love.”
“What you did is wrong, we both know that. It’s not in question,” she added. “Your actions wounded my family, and we still need healing, even five years later.”