A gang member convicted of gunning a man down in the courtyard of a Desert Hot Springs apartment building was sentenced to 60 years to life in state prison Friday.
Edwardo Stultz, 25, was found guilty of second-degree murder earlier this month in the Dec. 13, 2016, slaying of 37-year-old Coachella resident Johnny Rodrigues.
Prosecutors said Rodrigues was arguing with Stultz and another man shortly before being shot multiple times just before 3 a.m. He was pronounced dead later that day at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
The victim “was unable to say who shot him and quickly went into cardiac arrest on scene,” but witnesses placed Stultz and another shooter, who remains at large, at the apartment complex, court documents show.
Stultz was released on parole three months prior to the shooting after serving a prison sentence for evading arrest.
At his Friday sentencing hearing, he and his family members in attendance professed his innocence, with Stultz saying “Two people lost their lives. Two people. I lost my life too, for something I didn’t do. I feel for (Rodrigues’) family. When I see that mother cry, I see my mom.”
Stultz told investigators that he was at his sister’s home all day Dec. 13 until that evening, but Deputy District Attorney Anthony Orlando said witnesses spotted him elsewhere in the city around 7 that morning. Stultz told police that no one could corroborate his presence at the home because he was apparently alone until he left his sister’s residence sometime around 4 p.m.
A video surveillance system at the apartment complex was not working on the day of the shooting, and the murder weapon, believed to be a .357 revolver, was never recovered. A ballistics expert testified it was unclear if bullets recovered from the victim’s body came from one or multiple guns.
Stultz’s attorney, Bosky Kathuria, claimed that prosecutors built their case on the unreliable eyewitness testimony of drug addicts, who were coerced by law enforcement to identify his client. Kathuria alleged the prosecution’s case was “built (on) a house of cards of drug-addled, coerced, hearsay statements” rather than hard physical evidence.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Russell L. Moore had some discretion Friday to possibly strike a 25-year-to-life gun use enhancement, as well as a five-year enhancement for Stultz’s prior conviction, but after weighing a variety of factors, ultimately decided that Stultz’s criminal history, which extended into his juvenile years, precluded him from striking the enhancements.
Prior to the sentencing, Orlando urged that the mercy Stultz’s family sought needed to be extended to Rodrigues’ family.
“If there’s any leniency at all to be shown by this court, it’s to respect to (Rodrigues’) family, that they’ll never have the ability to call Johnny and speak to him on the phone, and talk about their children, and what they can do for them,” Orlando said. “All they have are memories.”
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