A Spokane jury acquitted a gang member Monday of second-degree murder and two other charges that would have resulted in a prison term of life without the possibility of parole.
Stafone N. “Stix” Fuentes, 27, collapsed into tears and hugged defense attorney Rob Cossey as Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno read the not-guilty verdicts.
“When you have a guy at 27 looking at life and he’s got two young kids, it’s a lot of pressure,” Cossey said. “He’s not an angel, but I truly believed he was innocent.”
Fuentes had been charged with several others in connection with a Nov. 27, 2011, gang-related fight at the Quality Inn at 110 E. Third Ave. Aspiring rapper Jose J. “Junior” Solis, 21, of Moses Lake, was shot and killed in that incident.
Prosecutors alleged that Fuentes handed a gun to John A. “Lil Danger” Castro, 28, who is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Solis. Just like Fuentes, Castro faces life in prison under the “three-strikes” law if he is convicted in connection with Solis’ killing.
Police said last year that Solis had been in town for a concert with a group when a fight broke out with Castro and his acquaintances. That led to a confrontation at the Quality Inn, where Solis was shot once in the chest.
Fuentes, who has previous convictions for first-degree robbery and second-degree assault, was arrested in June as he arrived at Spokane International Airport on a flight from Las Vegas.
Cossey said Fuentes was born in Los Angeles and his family moved to Las Vegas, where he faced daily beatings at the age of 12. He joined a gang for “self-preservation,” his lawyer said.
Fuentes moved to Spokane about nine years ago.
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Garvin, who declined comment after the verdict, had charged Fuentes with second-degree murder, two counts of second-degree assault, unlawful possession of a firearm and riot with a deadly weapon.
Moreno dismissed the two assault charges and the jury acquitted Fuentes on the murder, firearm and riot charges.
Cossey questioned why his client was charged in the first place.
Spokane police had obtained a surveillance video of the incident that showed four men running away after the shooting. Fuentes was not one of them. Only one witness, who had questionable reliability, would say that Fuentes handled the gun, Cossey said.
“He’s one of the brightest clients I’ve ever had. I believe I’ve done a good thing here today,” Cossey said. “I don’t always feel that way.”