A Prosser High graduate who never expected a senior prank would end up costing a half-million dollars in cleanup and repairs asked a judge Friday to give him a second chance.
Jorge. E. Luna Guerrero, 20, said it took being incarcerated the past seven months to realize how his mom has struggled so he could have a better life in the United States, and he might have squandered it away to have fun just days after 2011 commencement ceremonies.
Luna Guerrero is not legally documented to be in this country and could be sent back to Mexico based on his felony convictions for vandalizing Prosser High School on two separate occasions, his lawyer said.
The young man requested a sentence within the standard range, which called for a maximum year in jail. A less lenient sentence might have prevented his potential deportation.
However, Judge Vic VanderSchoor said it wasn't right for Luna Guerrero's punishment to be different than in the case of his co-defendant, who was sentenced in December.
He ordered Luna Guerrero to serve two years in prison.
"Sir, I'm not going to say you're a bad person, but you made a bad mistake. And I do hope that your statements you made are sincere and I do hope that you follow those," VanderSchoor said, noting that Luna Guerrero has a long life ahead of him. "Hopefully I never see you again, in this arena at least."
Luna Guerrero pleaded guilty Nov. 21 in Benton County Superior Court to six felony counts, just hours before he was to face a jury.
He was among five suspects who vandalized the school on three separate nights last spring, including twice after graduation. His involvement was on June 6 and 16.
Luna Guerrero's criminal case was the last to be resolved.
His guilty pleas were for two counts each of second-degree burglary and third-degree theft, and one count each of first- and second-degree malicious mischief.
The first-degree malicious mischief charge includes the aggravating circumstance that it was a major economic offense.
That is what allowed Deputy Prosecutor Kristin McRoberts to recommend an exceptional sentence that is double the top of the standard range.
"The damage in this was extreme. It's probably the worst malicious mischief case that our office has ever filed," McRoberts told the court. "We're dealing with a case here where damages are 120 times the statutory amount required to commit malicious mischief in the first."
The charge is defined as causing physical damage to another's property in an amount exceeding $5,000.
BELFOR Restoration billed $462,000 for work after the final incident -- almost $220,000 of that was labor costs because the cleanup extended over the summer -- and the Prosser School District submitted a separate $170,000 tab to deal with destroyed vending machines and replace furniture, appliances, a copy machine, doors and the security system, McRoberts said. That last number doesn't include school staff time that was wasted to complete the repairs or wait for contractors to come in, she said.
"Given the extreme amount of damage ... double the standard range really is a reasonable recommendation," McRoberts said.
On June 6, Luna Guerrero and Benjamin Velasquez climbed trees, entered the school through windows and painted the security cameras black in an attempt to conceal their identities. They were wearing all black, including face masks.
The two "made a mess of the school," McRoberts said, breaking ceiling tiles, leaving graffiti on walls, painting over pictures, shattering a display case and stealing an autographed Boise State University football jersey that belonged to former Prosser football star Kellen Moore.
Luna Guerrero and Velasquez were joined by two other friends that night.
Then 10 days later, Luna Guerrero and Velasquez returned to the school late at night and tried to disable the security, ultimately destroying the system, McRoberts said.
They found paint cans in the janitor's closet and tossed them about, dumping paint on furniture in the teacher's lounge, where they also removed all food from the refrigerators. They tried to flood a bathroom by clogging the sink and running the water, sprayed soda bottles in the hallway, damaged an expensive copy machine and stole items including a TV, digital recorder and a football and jersey from Principal Kevin Lusk's college days, she said.
But the most significant and expensive damage was from every single fire extinguisher in the school being discharged. A cleaning crew had to hand wipe that layer of dust off everything, which even involved going over each book in the library, she said.
Luna Guerrero said a couple of teens were happy they had graduated and didn't intend to hurt anybody when they set out on their senior prank, but it went too far.
"I didn't think I'd be facing what I'm facing right now for what I did," he said.
Acting Principal David Funk addressed the judge Friday on behalf of Prosser High's students and staff and the community, saying they are disappointed in Luna Guerrero's actions.
"Such actions are not the way we treat each other, your family, your school and your community," Funk said. "We can only hope that you will learn a lesson through all of this. ... We hope that you will grow as a result of fulfilling your responsibility to pay restitution, and it's our deepest hope that you can emerge from this as a productive member of our community."
Funk wished Luna Guerrero the best of luck.
Defense lawyer Sam Swanberg, in his push to get a normal sentence, requested two Prosser police officers to speak at the sentencing about Luna Guerrero's cooperation and demeanor during the investigation.
Detective Mark Cole said when they arrested Luna Guerrero and got him to the police station, he was "very respectful, answered all my questions, didn't lie to me and just appeared to be a nice, young man."
"I do believe he needs to be accountable for his actions. I hope that he makes better choices in the future," Cole said. "I ask that the court have mercy for him, but hold him accountable."
Detective Ed Blackburn said he has known Luna Guerrero for a while and in every dealing the young man has been respectful. Blackburn said he has no clue why Luna Guerrero decided to go through with these two crimes.
"When served at the scene with a warrant (Luna Guerrero) was confrontational and challenging. But within minutes of that, when he realized the gig was up, he became very compliant and cooperative and all," he said. "... I don't think that Jorge deserves any less than the other defendant or any more. I think he should be treated equally there."
Swanberg told the court that his client didn't have a vendetta against the school. It was a prank that went greatly awry, and now Luna Guerrero will face additional punishment because of his immigration status, he said.
Luna Guerrero said he didn't have a focus in life before these crimes and "just let life go by," but being locked up has opened his eyes and helped him to gain "much wisdom, discipline and understanding."
Luna Guerrero said he has lived in Prosser since he was a young boy and his only family is his mother and two younger brothers. He said if he is sent to Tijuana, Mexico, he has no relatives there, and wishes he would have realized sooner his mother's love and how she worked hard to give him a decent and safe upbringing.
Luna Guerrero said he views this conviction and sentence as a setback in life, albeit a painful one, but is ready to get back on track. He acknowledged that if it weren't for these crimes, he could be in college right now.
"I'm truly sorry for what I did to the community of Prosser. I do regret what I did, I truly do," Luna Guerrero said. "But the lesson learned, what I got from this, was something that I really needed."