Pineda said he doesn’t remember the shooting or understand why he killed Hernandez-Romero, whom he had never met before. He has said he was drunk when he fired the shots at 2:25 a.m. March 27, 2011.
According to testimony, customers and family members at the restaurant that morning wrestled Pineda to the ground and took his gun, holding him until police arrived. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana Fulton said the family’s actions likely prevented Pineda from harming others in the restaurant.
Hernandez-Romero’s brother, Marilo Hernandez told Judge Robert Morin on Friday that his family immigrated to the Unites States to flee gang violence. That he’s brother’s life could be taken in an apparent random attack hurt, he said.
“He never should have died the way he died,” Hernandez said through a Spanish interpreter.
Pineda’s defense attorney, Eugene Ohm, told the court that Pineda had a history of mental health issues and had seen a level of tragedy in El Salvador that “at least for me, is difficult to imagine,” Ohm said.
In Spanish, Pineda said, “I want to ask the family to please forgive me and I want to state I’m sorry and really understand what they feel.” His own mother, he added, was killed when he was three years old.
He said he recognized that he had “a very serious problem with alcohol and drugs” and hoped he could receive substance abuse treatment when he arrives in prison.
“I never want to be in a situation like this again,” Pineda said.
Ohm pushed for a sentence less than the 26 years imprisonment prosecutors had asked for because of these mental health issues and because Pineda did not have a criminal record in the US.
Pineda pled guilty last year, days before a bench trial was due to begin.
A press release from the United States Attorney’s Office is below:
WASHINGTON – Alexis Pineda, 26, of Suitland, Md., was sentenced today to 18 years in prison on a charge stemming from the killing last year of a patron at a restaurant in Northwest Washington, announced U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.
Pineda pled guilty in October 2012, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, to a charge of second-degree murder while armed. His friend, Jaime Cruz, 31, of Lanham, Md., pled guilty that month to obstructing justice in the case. Cruz was sentenced on Oct. 19, 2012, to three years of incarceration.
The Honorable Robert E. Morin sentenced Pineda. Upon completion of his prison term, Pineda will be subject to five years of supervised release. However, he will be deported to his native country of El Salvador at that time due to his other earlier conviction for an illegal re-entry charge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
According to the government’s evidence, Pineda, Cruz and another friend went to the El Sauce Restaurant, in the 1200 block of Eleventh Street NW, at about 2:30 a.m. on March 27, 2011. Pineda encountered the victim, Jose Manuel Hernandez-Romero, 24, inside the restaurant. Then, without provocation, he shot Mr. Hernandez-Romero one time in the chest with a revolver.
Immediately afterward, other patrons tackled Pineda outside the restaurant and wrestled the revolver away from him. Cruz tried to pry Pineda from the other patrons and threatened to shoot them unless they released him. Cruz also assaulted one of the patrons who held Pineda. Pineda repeatedly screamed, “I’ll kill him.” Despite the threats and assault, the patrons bravely continued to hold Pineda until the police arrived and arrested him.
In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Machen commended the work of the detectives and officers of the Criminal Investigations Division and the Third District of the Metropolitan Police Department, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security. He also expressed appreciation to those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Victim Witness Advocates Christina Principe and Melissa Milam, Paralegal Specialists Marian Russell and Meridith McGarrity. Finally, U.S. Attorney Machen praised Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shana Fulton, David Saybolt and Alan Boyd, who prosecuted the case.