A 23-year-old Fresno man was sentenced Monday to 38 years to life in prison for the beating death of a former Hmong soldier a year ago.
Francisco Holguin Garcia said nothing in Fresno County Superior Court, despite tearful pleas from Yeng Xiong, widow of the slain victim, Va Ger Vang, 63.
"My husband was a good man," she told Judge W. Kent Hamlin before asking Garcia, "Why did you kill him?"
Hamlin said he, too, was perplexed by Garcia's unwillingness to explain his actions.
Hamlin said the killing was the most senseless and brutal murder he has ever heard of as a judge.
"I don't have an explanation as to how someone can be so cruel," Hamlin said.
Police said Garcia is a Bulldog gang member who killed Vang on Jan. 11 in an alley not far from Vang's home near Belmont Avenue and Abby Street.
Vang was on his morning walk, collecting aluminum cans, when he was punched and kicked by Garcia, prosecutor Jeff Dupras said.
He died of blunt force trauma to his head, Dupras said.
Garcia was on probation on a robbery charge when he killed Vang, Hamlin said.
A jury on Nov. 23 convicted him of second-degree murder.
Xiong said her husband had a meaningful life. He was a guerrilla fighter for the Central Intelligence Agency in the war in Southeast Asia.
After the United States pulled out of the region, Vang went to Thailand and later immigrated to Fresno, where he took care of her and their three children, Xiong said.
Garcia contends he is innocent and said nothing in court because he plans to appeal his sentence, defense lawyer Mark Siegel told Hamlin.
On Garcia's behalf, his mother, Maria Holguin, said she was sorry for Xiong's loss.
She also said her son was innocent.
"He was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Holguin said. "I know my son. He is a loving person."
She then begged Hamlin to show mercy because Garcia has a girlfriend and a baby and one day wants to settle down with them.
But Hamlin said Garcia's brother, as well as his shoe prints, placed him at the scene of the crime.
In addition, Vang's blood was on Garcia's jacket, the judge said.
"The evidence is overwhelming," Hamlin said.
Siegel said his client is also a victim because he grew up in a home with irresponsible adults.
"He has a heart, and he also has a mind" and could have made something of himself otherwise, the lawyer said.
If Garcia is innocent, Siegel said, "God help him with what is going to happen to him" in prison.
But if he is guilty, there is no justification for the killing, Siegel said. "It truly was a shockingly brutal and senseless crime."