Filming near East High School in Des Moines features a web of complexity

From the start, the cases stemming from the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy near East High School in Des Moines have been among the most complex lawsuits ever filed in Polk County District Court, involving 10 teenagers, six guns and at least 42 bullets fired.

Plea deals for several defendants have simplified things a bit, but as frequent hearings continue, cases remain tangled as lawyers try to pin the blame on who fired the shots, who planned the murder and who was just in the game. Trials are expected to begin in March 2023.

All of this potentially amounts to a series of incredibly complicated trials, said Robert Rigg, criminal defense attorney and professor of law at Drake University.

“You not only have to worry about what the state is doing, but also what the other seven co-defendants are going to do, because they might inadvertently stand up and say something very detrimental to your case,” Rigg said. .

The charges are all from a sunny but cool day in March. First, several teenagers unsuccessfully searched for a rival around Hoover High School, one of their attorneys told the court. Then, 10 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18, armed with at least six guns, got into three cars and drove to East High School. Police said the teens spotted Jose Lopez-Perez, another rival, his sister, one of his friends and two other teens standing on a sidewalk in front of the high school, and the teens in all three cars opened fire .

Lopez was killed and his sister and her friend were injured.

After:Jessica Lopez was shot in the head outside East High. She wakes up again screaming for help.

Some of those arrested are believed to be involved in gangs, and Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek said the killing appeared to be another example of youth shootings that result from relatively insignificant disputes.

“Rather than having a fight in the schoolyard or just avoiding this person, that’s how they handle the situation,” he said.

Violent crimes among minors are on the rise

According to data from the US Department of Justice, violent crimes involving juvenile offenders are increasing nationwide. The department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which tracks juvenile offenders, said in its latest Statistical Information Book that known juvenile offenders were involved in approximately 1,122 murders in the United States in 2020, which represents approximately 8% of all known murderous offenders.

Murders by minors acting alone rose 30% over the previous year, according to the agency’s 2020 report, released in December 2021, the most recent available. Murders involving multiple juvenile offenders increased by 65%.

After:DMPS holds first community conversation about school safety after East High shooting

Des Moines police have charged the teens with first degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. Eight of the suspects aged 16 or older were charged as adults, as required by state law for those charged with a forcible crime. The two young suspects – 14 and 15 – are being prosecuted through the juvenile justice system and, if convicted, will likely only remain in custody until their 18th birthday.

Court documents show that one of the adult defendants, Manuel Buezo, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and two counts of willful injury on October 5. He will be sentenced on May 30 and a plea deal suggests he faces a 20-year prison term.

Gumaro Marquez-Jacobo, 18, has agreed to plead guilty to offenses including being an accessory after the fact and supplying a gun to someone under the age of 21. agreed to recommend a suspended sentence and two years probation. Sentencing is set for May 30.

Kevin Martinez, 16, has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of intimidation with a dangerous weapon. He will be sentenced on November 21. Crimes carry prison sentences of up to 10 years each.

Henry Valladares Amaya, who turned 18 days after the shooting, could also plead guilty. A judge has scheduled a plea hearing for October 14. The charges to which he has agreed to plead guilty are not yet disclosed.

With multiple defendants, multiple accounts for jurors to follow

The first trial is scheduled for October 17, for 17-year-old Braulio Hernandez-Salas, but his lawyer asked a judge on Friday to delay the trial as he discusses a plea with prosecutors.

Defendants Octavio Lopez Sanchez, 17, and Daniel Hernandez, 18, are scheduled to be tried together from March 6. and Romeo Perdomo, 17, has a trial scheduled for April 10.

Previously:Teen charged with murder for shooting outside East High will remain in adult court

A document filed by Polk County Assistant District Attorney James Hathaway in July says prosecutors chose to split the defendants into separate trials “to reduce the complexity and logistical difficulties in this case.”

One of the difficulties in prosecuting multiple defendants in such a shooting is proving who had a gun and who fired at passing cars. Daniel Hernandez’s attorneys said in a July 1 filing that Hernandez and Amaya would point fingers at each other. They said it would be unusually complex for jurors in the trial to determine who the shooters were, who aided and abetted and who shares responsibility for the common criminal conduct.

Rigg, Drake’s law school professor, said he couldn’t recall another case that started with eight defendants in a single homicide case. Each defendant adds a different set of facts, which complicates the trial for prosecutors and makes it harder for jurors to keep the evidence clear.

The instructions the judge has to read to jurors will be a nightmare, he said, as each defendant faces multiple charges, and many include lower-level offenses that jurors might consider.

“The potential for a mistrial increases each time you add a defendant and each time you add complicating factors such as evidence of other crimes,” Rigg said.

William Morris, writer for the Des Moines Register, contributed to this article.

Sharon D. Cole