A defendant who was 14 years old when he went on a shooting spree through south Modesto and killed a young father will likely die behind bars after a judge sentenced him Friday to 132 years to life in prison.
Angel Cabanillas, now 18, will be the only California inmate serving what is, in practical terms, life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime committed at the age of 14 or younger, his defense attorney said in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Probation officials said Cabanillas' sentence was the longest they could recall in their two decades working for the county.
Attorney Martin Baker of Modesto said letting Cabanillas die in prison for a crime he committed as a child would amount to "cruel and unusual punishment."
"The only light at the end of the tunnel is death," Baker said. "For a juvenile, that's a very, very long time."
Some juvenile advocates agreed and called the sentence "excessive." They said teenagers should be treated differently than adults, as science shows adolescents are poor decision-makers when it comes to crime: they often are immature, have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility and are more susceptible to peer pressure.
"What's the purpose of giving someone 132 years?" asked Liz Ryan, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Youth Justice. "That's inhumane, it's cruel, it's unusual and it should be banned."
Deputy District Attorney Brad Nix said Cabanillas' case was one of the most "extreme" cases he has ever seen. Nix said Cabanillas was not an innocent child, but a "seasoned, experienced gangster."
"What is cruel and unusual punishment is that the young son of the murder victim ... is now denied a lifetime with his father for no reason other then this defendant wanted to make his gang proud of him by terrorizing an innocent neighborhood, shooting up a party full of kids and killing a complete stranger for no reason," Nix said.
Judge Timothy Salter said the viciousness of Cabanillas' attack ruled out any leniency. Salter spoke directly to Cabanillas, saying he hoped the severity of his sentence will serve as a "strong statement" to gang members. Cabanillas stared straight ahead during the entire hearing.
"An innocent human life was taken," Salter said. "The peace and tranquility of two entire neighborhoods was shattered."
Whether a juvenile can be sentenced to life in prison without parole is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the two cases under review, Florida juveniles — ages 13 and 17 — were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, one for rape and another for home invasion robbery.
In 2005, the court found the juvenile death penalty was unconstitutional.
The United States is alone in the world in making regular use of life-without-parole sentences for children 17 and younger.
Human rights groups estimate at least 2,000 juveniles are serving such sentences, the vast majority of those involving a homicide.
On March 5, a jury convicted Cabanillas of second-degree murder and a host of other gang and gun charges in the shooting spree that left innocent bystander Manuel Rayas, 28, of San Francisco dead.
Cabanillas, a member of Sureño street gang South Side Tréce, also was found guilty of multiple counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm. Jurors rejected two attempted murder charges but found him guilty of nine other felonies.
The troubled teen was released from juvenile hall — where a psychiatrist prescribed an anti-psychotic medication along with pills for depression and a sleeping disorder — only five days before the shooting spree.
Cabanillas called for help the day after his release because he didn't have any medications, but he didn't get the pills until after his arrest, when a psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and auditory hallucinations.
Cabanillas did not claim innocence because of insanity, a defense that is rarely successful.
On June 10, 2006, the teen, his older brother and a buddy grabbed a rifle, piled into a blue Honda and headed into enemy territory.
Authorities say the trio drove to a neighborhood west of Crows Landing Road dubbed Deep South Side Modesto by residents who affiliate with Norteño gangs, where they shouted slogans and opened fire on strangers who happened to be outside.
According to witnesses, the boys passed a house on Almaden Way three times, making threats against a crowd of people gathered at a birthday party, including children jumping in an inflatable bounce house.
On the third pass, the witnesses say, Cabanillas opened fire as partygoers ran for cover. Rayas was killed.
Thirteen minutes later, about 6:10 p.m., the boys were spotted near the Seventh Street Bridge. They were arrested after a short pursuit.
Nix said Cabanillas terrorized more than 50 people during his shooting spree.
"He made the city of Modesto suffer," Nix said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.