Man sentenced to 7 years in 2009 murder
In an emotional statement she read to the court, Sunia Tajik, whose 55-year-old father was murdered three and a half years ago in Somerton, says her family's grief and heartache is constant and that Friday's sentencing helps to bring some of it to a close.
“The defendant is a coward. There is no other way to put it. He is a criminal and he should be shown no leniency or mercy, because my father was not shown any,” Tajik said as she fought back tears. “He was left to slowly die in a dirty parking lot in the middle of the night, alone and in pain. I was told my father suffered greatly and he was in tremendous pain the last few moments of his life.”
The defendant Tajik was referring to is Pedro Raya Jr., who was being sentenced on Friday in Yuma County Superior Court for his role in the 2009 murder of NAPA Auto Parts delivery driver Morteza Tajik.
“He and his fellow dirtbags planned to rob my father. While they sat around wondering what crime to commit, my dad was working to provide a living for his family, to put food on their table and a roof over their heads,” Tajik said. “These cowards did not know my dad. He was just an easy mark for them. They wanted money and instead of working for it by getting a job they decided that murdering and robbing an innocent man was a better alternative for them.”
She went on to say, “(My father) was left bleeding from multiple stab wounds and blows to the head. I always wonder what he thought in those last few minutes. Was he thinking about us? Was he thinking about what we are having to go through right now? I will never know because I did not get to say goodbye to my dad. He left the house on Wednesday June 3 and never, ever came home.”
The brutal murder shocked the tiny community of Somerton and was the first one committed there since December 1991.
After she had finished with her statement, Superior Court Judge Maria Elena Cruz, who is presiding over the case, sentenced Raya to seven years in prison, with credit for 1,370 days previously served for conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Raya, who was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of participating in a criminal street gang, one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and one count of tampering with evidence, pleaded guilty to the charge in a plea agreement in June 2010.
“This coward may not have directly taken part in the beating and stabbing of my father, since according to his own statements he didn't want to get his hands bloody, to steal my father's wallet, which is what his job was that night,” Tajik had said in the statement she read earlier. “Let me repeat that he didn't steal my father's wallet because it was a crime or it was wrong, but because he didn't want to get my father's blood on his hands, the blood my father spilled after being stabbed, over and over and again. He instead stood by and watched. He watched my father get slaughtered.”
Raya, who was accompanied by his attorney John Minore, also addressed the court before sentencing, offering an apology to the victim's family, saying his actions that night, and the street gang lifestyle he was living, were both senseless.
“I know there is nothing I can do to bring this man back,” said Raya, who was 17 years old at the time of the murder. “I wish there was more I could do to show that I'm actually sorry for what happened to this man's family. I'm deeply sorry for it. I don't know what else I can say. I can only imagine the pain they went through. I'm sorry.”
The judge responded to Raya's remarks saying that while nothing he can say or do will change what has happened, there are choices he could make in the future. Cruz said that unlike his co-defendants, Raya will eventually have a chance to turn his life around.
“There is a lot you can do. Whether what you are saying now really means anything, what matters is what you do from here forward,” Cruz said. “You will never be able to lessen the victim's pain. That you will have to carry with you. You helped take something from them that no one can ever give back.”
Cruz told Raya that he will eventually be back in the community and will have an opportunity to become a better person and to speak with other people about the criminal street gang lifestyle he had lived and help to persuade them from getting involved in it as well.
“The question is, are you going to be brave enough to speak out against that lifestyle?” Cruz said. “The choices you make going forward are going to say more than you can ever say here today. If you really regret your involvement you will show it. And if you don't, we will see you back here.”
Prosecutor William Katz, of the Yuma County Attorney's Office, was also at the sentencing hearing to inform the court of the status of the cases against Raya's co-defendants, Jose Gonzalez Nunez and Israel Lopez. Katz said that Lopez has entered a plea agreement for first-degree murder and is going to be sentenced to statutory life.
Nunez, he said, has also entered a plea to first-degree murder and that the court, in his case, has the discretion to sentence him to either statutory life, meaning he is not eligible for parole or release, or to natural life, meaning he is eligible for parole after 25 years.
According to Somerton police, Tajik was found dead in the 100 block of South Congress Avenue. A Somerton police officer on a routine patrol found the body at 2:47 a.m. Court records indicate that Tajik had been stabbed multiple times and that Nunez allegedly struck him on the head several times with a baseball bat.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.