A Kennewick father’s death led back to these 2 men. They’ve pleaded guilty

Murder victim family letter read at sentencing

Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn reads a family letter from murder victim Martin Ibanez during the sentencing of Stephen Morfin for the Sept. 11, 2011 fatal shooting in Kennewick.
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Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn reads a family letter from murder victim Martin Ibanez during the sentencing of Stephen Morfin for the Sept. 11, 2011 fatal shooting in Kennewick.

The loved ones of a 39-year-old father shot dead in 2017 said they believe people deserve a second chance, but it doesn’t seem like his killer will change based on his criminal history.

Stephen E. Morfin, 28, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree manslaughter, meaning he caused the death of Martin Ibanez through criminal negligence.

The charge in Benton County Superior Court was reduced from second-degree murder as part of a plea deal.

Morfin received a 10-year sentence, the top of the standard range. He has multiple felony convictions, including robbery, witness intimidation and assault.

Prosecutors said they met with Ibanez’s family Thursday night to discuss the deal. The family opted not to attend the hearing, but asked that a statement be read in court.

“We will leave it up to God to punish him,” the family said.

‘He hurt a lot of people’

Morfin is lucky because he gets to be in his son’s life, and his son still has his father, the family said. Ibanez’s children don’t have him around anymore for life’s celebrations like birthdays and weddings, they said.

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“We pray to God we never cross paths with Mr. Morfin again,” the letter said. “And we believe that when we leave this Earth, no crime goes unpunished, not by us, by people, but by God.

“(Morfin) didn’t hurt one person, he hurt a lot of people.”

The plea deal Friday also included co-defendant Carlos Tapia Torres, who was facing a murder charge if he went forward with their scheduled murder trial next Wednesday.

Tapia Torres pleads
Carlos Tapia Torres is escorted into Benton County Superior Court Friday where he plead guilty to first-degree rendering criminal assistance in connection to the Sept. 11, 2017, shooting death of Martin Ibanez in Kennewick. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Instead, Tapia Torres entered an Alford plea to first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

The plea allows Tapia Torres, 24, to maintain his innocence while acknowledging there was enough evidence for a jury to convict him.

Judge Carrie Runge, however, made sure he knows it is viewed by the court as a guilty plea. Tapia Torres said he understood.

Ibanez owed $3,000 to $4,000 to Tapia Torres for drugs he’d been fronted, according to court documents and witness statements.

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Tapia Torres felt it was time for Ibanez to pay up, and asked Morfin to take care of business on Sept. 11, 2017. He instructed Martin Mendoza to go with Morfin and direct him to Ibanez’s location.

Morfin did not intend to kill Ibanez when he stopped in front of 1507 W. Seventh Place. But after a brief argument in the driveway, he shot Ibanez several times, then took off.

Ibanez was pronounced dead at Trios Southridge Hospital in Kennewick.

Martin Mendoza, witness and co-defendant, gives a recorded video deposition for use in the second-degree murder trial of Stephen Morfin in Benton County Superior Court.

Mendoza pleaded guilty last year to driving Morfin from the shooting scene and helping hide the getaway car. He already served a five-month county jail sentence.

Morfin’s and Tapia Torres’ cases recently were consolidated into one trial.

Additional time

Tapia Torres is serving a three-year sentence out of Franklin County for helping attack a man last July in Pasco.

On Friday, he was ordered to do one year and three months for his role in Ibanez’s death. The sentence will be done at the same time as the ongoing first-degree robbery prison term.

In addition to the manslaughter, Morfin pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana by a prisoner while in the Benton County jail and possessing methamphetamine.

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The meth case was from an August 2017 traffic stop in Pasco. An officer knew Morfin’s driver’s license was suspended and, during the stop, was notified by a fellow detective that a plastic bag containing meth crystals could be seen in the center console, documents said.

And in January 2018, while locked up on the murder case, corrections officers found marijuana in Morfin’s cell.

Morfin got one year each for the two drug cases. The time will be served after his manslaughter sentence.

“What the survivors have to say in this particular case is particularly touching,” Runge said. “You are the lucky one. You still get to be involved in your son’s life. ... There is a child out there that doesn’t have a father and that is because of your actions.”

homicide scene
Martin C. Ibanez, 39, was gunned down in the driveway of a Kennewick home on Sept. 11, 2017. File Tri-City Herald