HOLBROOK — Last Wednesday, convicted murderer Gabriel Jaramillo was sentenced to a “natural life” sentence in Apache County Superior Court.
Last month, a jury handed up its verdicts of guilty on charges of first degree murder, burglary, concealing a dead body and tampering with evidence. Based on those verdicts, visiting Judge Timothy Wright handed down judgments of guilt and began the sentencing phase of this lengthy case.
In August, 2012, Jaramillo murdered Steven Long while Long was sleeping. Jaramillo was a co-worker of Long’s. Jaramillo believed Long was somehow responsible for his conviction on a crime for which he previously went to prison. After he killed Long, the jury found that Jaramillo then burglarized his home, got rid of bloody bedding and dumped the body near Big Lake, which was discovered by mushroom hunters a few days later.
It took several years for Jaramillo to be charged with Long’s death because after the murder he fled to Gila County where he led deputies on a high speed chase and shot at them. He was convicted in Gila County on charges related to that incident and he spent five years in prison. He was charged in Apache County when he finished that sentence.
Judge Wright presided over the trial — he was brought in because two of the Apache County judges had been working as prosecutors during the investigation of Long’s murder.
The sentencing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., but started late. The judge had summoned Deputy County Attorney Garrett Whiting and defense counsel Dirk LeGate into the his chambers for a discussion. Meanwhile, Jaramillo, dressed in orange jail-issue clothing — a far cry from the elegant blue suit he wore at trial — sat with chained hands and feet and was watched closely by an armed detention officer.
The victim’s mother was there accompanied by a victim advocate and sat next to a man that looked and acted like a pastor of some sort. Turns out, he was the jury’s foreman who wanted to be there. “I had never seen anything like this,” the foreman told the Independent, and said he wanted to follow it through. Jaramillo’s sister was also present and the judge noted that she had attended the entire trial.
After the trial, Jaramillo did two things — he fired his lawyer and vowed to appeal.
He self-filed two motions with the court. LeGate pledged to file a timely notice of appeal for Jaramillo and agreed to be taken off the case. As is customary, the court will appoint appellate counsel for Jaramillo; LeGate also had copied his entire file and told Judge Wright he brought it for delivery to the sister.
The judge and the lawyers then began a technical discussion of Arizona’s sentencing laws and the lawyers presented their recommendations about the sentence.
Both Long’s mother and Jaramillo told the judge they did not want to make any statements.
The judge didn’t have a lot of leeway — a death sentence was not available because the state did not ask for one by giving the required notice at the beginning of the case. Under Arizona law, a jury has to recommend the death penalty and they weren’t asked to do so. Also constraining the judge was the gravity of the crime, the fact that Jaramillo had at least two proven prior felonies and the fact that he was on release from another felony when he committed the murder. Under the law, those factors mandate an increase in the sentence.
Whiting asked for a sentence of “natural life,” one of the few phrases in the law which actually means what it says—that Jaramillo will die in prison. LeGate argued for a “life sentence” which means Jaramillo might be paroled after 25 years, at the age of 91, LeGate calculated.
The judge cited various laws and facts peculiar to this case and sided with the prosecutor. When Jaramillo leaves prison one day, it will be in a hearse.