WEST JORDAN — A man who admitted to a 2012 shootout that killed two people, including his uncle, was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison Tuesday.
Alexander Leroy Vasquez, originally charged with aggravated murder and murder in the two deaths, pleaded guilty earlier this year in a deal with prosecutors to two counts of second-degree felony manslaughter, as well as one count of discharging a firearm, a third-degree felony.
While the true reason for the Aug. 5, 2012, meeting may never be known, prosecutor Josh Player emphasized that Vasquez was responsible for organizing it, and two people are dead as a result.
"Whether this was a shakedown or a showdown or some kind of meeting to clear the air, we may never know," Player argued, noting that "lives were changed forever."
The shootout left Paul Giovale, 41, dead, while Vasquez's uncle, 41-year-old Simon Vasquez, died from paralyzing gunshot wounds after he was removed from life support.
A woman, Cindy James, was also wounded in the crossfire but recovered.
Defense attorney David Mack claimed that had Simon Vasquez received different medical counsel, he may not have elected to be removed from life support and possibly could have recovered.
He also emphasized that while his client has taken responsibility for the death, "the bullet that killed Simon Vasquez did not come from Alex Vasquez."
Mack cited Alex Vasquez's troubled youth, poor parenting and educational challenges as contributing to his turbulent life. Quoting from a presentence evaluation, Mack said Vasquez "did not have an equal opportunity to succeed in life."
Third District Judge Bruce Lubeck said the phrase had resonated with him as well.
Vasquez spoke to the judge Tuesday, saying he has been trying to educate himself and improve his life. He apologized for the deaths of his uncle and Giovale, saying that if he had had a better understanding of the law, he may have made different choices that day.
He also said he doesn't believe he deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"Life for me may have been difficult, but that's no excuse," Vasquez said. "People's lives are gone, I understand that, but my life is on the line as well."
Vasquez asked the judge for "a little bit of compassion."
Appearing to struggle with the sentence, Lubeck ordered Vasquez to serve consecutive terms of two to 20 years in prison for each of the manslaughter charges, while a one-to-15-year sentence for the firearm charge will run concurrently. All three sentences will run consecutively to a prison term Vasquez is already serving.
"I don't think you are a monster who deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life and never see the light of day and all that," Lubeck said. "But I do know that two people lost their lives and you had some role in that."
Lubeck said he doesn't believe the killings were "an assassination," but the result of bad choices from everyone involved.
At a preliminary hearing, James testified that on the day of the meeting, she and Simon Vasquez had attempted to leave, but Alex Vasquez pulled out a gun and said no one could go. James said Alex Vasquez ordered his uncle to pat down one of the men in the garage, but Simon Vasquez didn't want any part of the situation.
Ultimately, shooting erupted between Giovale and Alex Vasquez.
While in the hospital, Simon Vasquez told police the incident had something to do with a rental car that Alex Vasquez's brother was alleged to have stolen "with large amounts of drugs inside," but was returned without the drugs.
Simon Vasquez told police that Alex Vasquez was the first to pull out a gun.
June Price, Simon Vasquez's mother, disputed that her son might have survived if he had remained on life support.
"He wasn't going to live. It's not that he chose to take his own life," she said.
Price said that Alex Vasquez's difficult upbringing does not excuse his decisions, and people with even harder challenges have gone on to make something of themselves.
"He needs to take accountability and really look at life the way it is," she said.