A judge on Friday convicted the second 12-year-old boy charged with murder in a migrant worker slaying that stunned this central Washington community.
Manuel Sanchez and John Duncan, also 12, both were convicted of first-degree murder in the Aug. 20 shooting of Emilio Pruneda, 50. The migrant worker was shot 18 times after he threw rocks at the boys for disturbing him with target practice near his makeshift camp on the Columbia River.
Sanchez, convicted Friday, and Duncan, convicted Monday, both were tried by Judge John Bridges in Chelan County Juvenile Court. The boys could be sent to a detention center until they are 21.
Sanchez bowed his head when Bridges found him guilty immediately after closing arguments. His mother, Geraldina Talancon, did not appear surprised by the verdict.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Deputy Prosecutor Gordon Edgar said later. “I felt that the evidence certainly warranted the conviction and that the police did a fantastic job of investigating this matter.”
Defense attorney Tom Caballero did not return calls for comment.
In ruling Friday, Bridges carefully recounted testimony from each witness against Sanchez. The boy did not testify in his own behalf, and Caballero called no witnesses. He also waived his right to make an opening statement.
While going over Sanchez’s statement to police, who arrested both boys at the scene, Bridges repeatedly glanced at Sanchez. The boy did not look back at the judge.
“Based on the evidence, Manuel Sanchez and-or with John Duncan acted with intent to cause the death of Emilio Pruneda and the intent … was premeditated,” Bridges ruled Friday.
He also convicted Sanchez of firstdegree burglary, attempted residential burglary and three counts of theft of a firearm. Duncan also was convicted of burglary and theft. The boys had gone to the river to fire three guns they had stolen from an area home.
In statements to police, both said they initially fired at Pruneda when they saw him by the river, and fired at him again when he hit Sanchez in the chin with a rock. Duncan - who said he was angry at the man who hurt his “best and only friend” - subsequently emptied two guns into Pruneda’s prone body.
During Sanchez’s trial, Sgt. Doug Tangen testified that he asked Sanchez at the crime scene what had happened.
“He said he’d shot several times and remembered the victim falling down towards the water,” Tangen said.
Duncan looked pale and shaken, the officer said, while Sanchez “appeared somewhat removed.”
Three of the 18 bullets struck Pruneda’s heart. His body was found near his meager possessions - a blanket, a couple cans of food and a blue tarp. A relative said he had 60 cents in his pocket.
When Bridges ruled in November that the boys would be tried as juveniles, not adults, he called the crime “terrible and depressing.”
The judge said he had been searching for “the answer to the question, ‘Why?”’
He noted that the two boys came “from different races, different cultures, different economic status” and said the common thread was that both came from “totally dysfunctional families.”
Both had prior misdemeanor juvenile convictions, but school and social-service officials said they were stunned by the slaying.
The boys met in fourth grade at Columbia Elementary School. Principal Rom Castilleja said last summer both “had the potential to be good students. … Both wanted to be listened to, wanted to be recognized for things they did, wanted someone to care about them.
“They were like a lot of kids in many respects.”