Following a last minute plea change, Carmello Cruz, 43, of Englewood, was sentenced to 12 months of parole for the Oct. 13, 2013, shooting of his friend, Rocky Mendez of Carbondale.
Cruz originally pleaded guilty to second degree assault for the incident, which he has maintained was an accident. At a sentencing hearing on April 8, District Chief Judge James Boyd raised concerns that the charge might be qualified as a “crime of violence,” which would make probation problematic.
The court delayed the sentencing by a day to address the issue. On April 9, Cruz withdrew his second degree assault plea and instead pleaded guilty to a count of tampering with physical evidence and a count of 3rd degree assault with a deadly weapon.
“I think there’s still an arguable ambiguity about whether this is a crime of violence,” public defender Tina Fang said at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, calling the incident “a horrible accident.”
Both Fang and Assistant DA Ann Norton cited a Colorado Bureau of Investigation forensics report which indicated that the weapon may have had wear or damage that made it susceptible to inadvertently firing.
Early on the morning of Oct. 13, Cruz was drinking with Mendez and another man, identified as Mendez’s nephew, in a shed near the end of Garfield Avenue just outside Carbondale. While handling a handgun reportedly owned by Mendez’s nephew, Enrique, Cruz fired two shots, one of which hit Mendez. He then fled the scene at the urging of his friends and threw the weapon onto a nearby hill.
Cruz later turned himself in over the phone, and directed police to the location of the gun. He was picked up by Glenwood Springs Police with a blood alcohol content of 0.177.
Mendez made an appearance at the sentencing, and, through an interpreter, told the court that “since this whole issue has started, from that day forward I have not been able to work a single day.” He recited his difficulty paying rent, supporting his family and affording medication.
“It really hurts me so much what happened with my friend and to see the situation my friend is in now,” Cruz responded, also through an interpreter.
Judge Boyd was sympathetic but firm.
“No matter the circumstances that led to this, the consequences are long-lasting,” he told Cruz.
Immigration proceedings may impede a supervised probation. If Cruz is deported, Fang is authorized to represent him in his absence. If not, he will be required to turn himself into the probation office within 48 hours of release or return to the country, and will have to serve 30 hours of community service.
Additional conditions include a to-be-determined amount of restitution, and that Cruz not possess or consume alcohol. He was also sentenced to 90 days of incarceration, of which the 179 days he has already served more than covered.