A Honduran national who fatally shot a beloved member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe after a confrontation at a downtown Coeur d’Alene bar last year was sentenced Friday to 28 years in prison.
Juan C. Aldana-Villanueva, 23, pleaded to second-degree murder and will be eligible for release after 20 years. However, because he is in this country illegally, he will be deported as soon as he is released.
The sentence appeared to bring great relief to the large family of Timothy I. Wolfe, 21, who packed Judge John Luster’s Kootenai County 1st District courtroom. Family and friends hugged and cried in the hallway outside the courtroom. Wolfe’s grandmother wore her grandson’s Salish Kootenai College basketball jacket.
“Everybody’s pretty happy with what happened,” said Sam Abrahamson, Wolfe’s uncle and an officer with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s police department. “It’s over now. This part of the whole thing is finished.”
Prior to sentencing, Aldana-Villanueva asked, through an interpreter, for forgiveness.
“It hurts me to accept the reality of having caused such great emptiness,” he said in a written statement translated from Spanish. “For the rest of my life, I will live with this pain, this remorse, and his absence, which I will always feel inside me.”
Wolfe was home from college for Mother’s Day weekend and was downtown with friends early on May 9, 2009. Witnesses told police that he and Aldana-Villanueva argued at a downtown bar. After the bar closed, Wolfe and his friends were walking in the area when Aldana-Villanueva pulled up his car and fired a shot that hit Wolfe in the eye.
Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh asked Luster for a 30-year sentence, the maximum allowable under a plea arrangement, with 28 years fixed. After the argument, he said, Aldana-Villanueva drove to Post Falls then returned to Coeur d’Alene with a gun, seeking Wolfe out. McHugh said he threw the gun along the highway and tried to alter the appearance of his car to avoid detection.
However, defense attorney Lynn Nelson said Aldana-Villanueva returned to the scene seeking to make peace with Wolfe and his friends. Nelson said when his client stopped next to them and rolled down the window, Wolfe struck him and he fired the shot during a struggle. Nelson said he showed the police where the weapon was and pleaded guilty to avoid dragging Wolfe’s family through a trial.
Members of both families spoke before the sentencing. Abrahamson remembered his nephew as a good man who attracted people with his smile. Wolfe’s 15-year-old sister, Christina Nilson, spoke of the brother with whom she could “talk about anything and everything.”
But perhaps the most passionate statement came from Wolfe’s mother, Charlotte Nilson, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council. She said her son would not want people to be miserable and asked the assembled crowd to forgive someone for something in life if they couldn’t forgive Aldana-Villanueva.
“Our lives have changed forever, and it will continue to be hard to live without Tim,” she said, her voice catching. “I enjoyed my son so much. He was like my best friend.”
Wolfe was a star basketball player for Lakeside High School in Plummer and was named to the 1A All-Idaho first team as a senior point guard in 2005. He also played track and football. At the time of his death, he was studying and playing basketball at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Mont., but returned frequently on weekends.
Aldana-Villanueva’s brother, Marvin Aldana, said his brother was the youngest of 17 children who grew up with an abusive father. Aldana, a taxi driver in New York City, said he would be willing to move to Idaho to provide financial and moral support to his brother and his brother’s young son. He asked Judge Luster to have mercy on his brother.
“I’m so sorry for all of this. I wish I could do something to give them strength,” Aldana said of Wolfe’s family.
Prior to delivering his sentence, Luster said the evidence was clear that Aldana-Villanueva could have chosen to stay away and let things be when he left the scene that night. But instead, he returned “looking for trouble,” and he found it. Luster said he wasn’t convinced the act was premeditated, but it displayed reckless disregard for life.
“We basically have two destroyed young lives as a result of a momentary lapse of common sense,” Luster said. “That’s a real tragedy.”