By MICHAEL P. RELLAHAN
WEST CHESTER — A troubled young man who authorities said provided the knife used in the stabbing deaths of two southern Chester County men in a gang-related homicide was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 80 years in state prison.
“I do appreciate that your life has been a hard life, and that you had a lot of disadvantages,” Senior Judge Ronald Nagle told defendant James Jones before imposing the sentence on twin charges of third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy. “But that cannot possibly excuse what you did.”
Nagle said he agreed with the prosecutors in the case, Assistant District Attorneys Andrea Cardamone and Chris deBarrena-Sarobe, that Jones is “a person who is dangerous to other people” who acted in “a cloud of anger and hatred” the night the two men were stabbed to death at a bonfire party in New Garden during a brawl involving rival street gangs.
“This was more than just misplaced machismo,” he said. “This was a crime acted out in a horrific manner.”
But Nagle ultimately rejected the longer sentence that the prosecution had requested, of 46 to 92 years behind bars, or the maximum term that the families of the victims tearfully asked he hand down. “I really can’t deliver the kind of justice that the family wants,” the judge said. “I can’t make it better for the family.”
Jones, 21, who was living with a friend in West Grove when the murders occurred, pleaded guilty in August to the charges. In doing so, he agreed to accept a minimum term of at least 20 to 40 years in prison for the December 2011 stabbing death of 27-year-old Cuahuctemo “Temo” Bedolla, and an unspecified consecutive term for his participation in the similar demise of 29-year-old Jose “Little” Rodriguez.
He and his attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Meredith Copeland and P.J. Redmond, had agreed to let Nagle decide what the jail term for the second count of murder would be, and whether he would also impose a prison term for the criminal conspiracy charge Jones pleaded guilty to.
In the end, although Nagle handed down the maximum 20- to 40-year term for the charge involving Rodriguez, he did not impose a subsequent prison term for conspiracy, sentencing Jones to 10 years probation after his release from prison on parole. That date will not come until Jones is at least 59. He has been in Chester County Prison since his arrest a few days after the murder.
Bedolla and Rodriguez were members of a southern Chester County street gang known and the Vikings, and had gone to an outdoor party held by teenagers from the Kennett and Avondale areas to watch a televised boxing match at an abandoned trailer park on Baltimore Pike in New Garden the night of Dec. 3, 2011.
There, the men were confronted by members of their rival gang, the Surenos-13. As described in detail by Cardamone, with photographic slides taken by police investigators after the murders, the Sur-13s first left the party after being asked to by the party’s organizers, and then gathered others together to get “amped up” for a confrontation with the Vikings. She said the Sur-13s held a “pep rally” at one member’s home, and then descended on the trailer park in a group of more than a dozen adults and teenagers.
Both men were stabbed outside an abandoned trailer at the center of the park.
After the attack, Bedolla was driven to Jennersville Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Rodriguez’s body, collapsed on the ground at the end of a dirt trail near the site of the attack, was found the next day by police.
Although many people were involved in the attack on Bedolla and Rodriguez, witnesses were able to identify only Jones as having been seen with the knife that police found at the scene and which was used in the stabbing of both victims. When he was questioned on Dec. 6, 2011, he admitted to carrying the knife to the scene and of stabbing Bedolla. He did not say whether he had done the same to Rodriguez, although witnesses said he was in the crowd that pummeled Rodriguez as he tried to fight his way out.
Authorities said there was circumstantial evidence that Jones had stabbed both men. Both victims’ blood and DNA were found on the knife he was seen carrying, and Rodriguez’s blood was found by police on his shoe tops.
Cardamone called the killings “a brutal, savage, meaningless crime” in her remarks to Nagle during the sentencing proceedings. Jones, who was not a member of the Sur-13 gang but friends with some members, went to the scene “looking for trouble,” she said. “He wanted to fight for the sake of fighting. As a result of that zeal, two men are dead.”
Both Cardamone and deBarrena-Sarobe, who have overseen the prosecution of the 12 men and teenagers who were ultimately arrested in the case, said that Jones’ past record with juvenile authorities and descriptions of his behavior suggested strongly that he could not be rehabilitated in prison. The best the system could do is hold him until he is at an age when his desire to fight has dissipated, they said.
“For the sake of the community, we are asking you to let him out of jail only in the twilight of his years,” said deBarrena-Sarobe.
In her argument for a lesser sentence of 27½ to 52 years in prison, Copeland pointed out that none of the other defendants already sentenced in the case had received anywhere near the minimum term of 20 years that Jones had accepted, nor had they been sentenced to consecutive terms on the third-degree murder counts that he agreed to.
“He is already going to serve twice as long as some of his co-defendants, and he accepts that,” she said.
As of Wednesday, four other defendants had been sentenced in the case, and are serving minimum sentences between seven and 11 years. Others have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
But she urged Nagle to take into account the serious abuse, both physical and emotional, that he suffered at the hands of his parents over the years in fashioning his sentence. “Mr. Jones led a horrific life,” she said. “And this is what that behavior has wrought.” He suffered from a number of emotional and mental health problems all his young life.
None of Jones’ immediate family members attended the hearing. In his support, a southern Chester County family who had provided a home for him for some months prior to the attack sat silently in Nagle’s courtroom.
Copeland disputed the prosecutors’ suggestion that he was beyond rehabilitation, saying that she had seen him mature in the months he has spent in the ordered, regimented life of county prison. “I have seen a change in him, a night-and-day conversation. That is your rehabilitation right there.” She also said that his own statement at the time of the crime — witnesses reported him saying, “I can’t believe I just did that” after he stabbed Bedolla — showed that he had some remorse for his crime.
In his defense, Jones read from a letter he prepared for Nagle, asking forgiveness causing his victims’ families pain.
“I know how it feels,” he said. “I have had enough time to think about what I did. It does hurt.”
That pain was on wrenching display during brief statements the families gave to Nagle prior to sentencing. Rodriguez’s sister and cousin spoke of the void that existed in the lives since his death, while Bedolla’s mother spoke about how her life had been “destroyed” after her son’s murder.
Their lives “are just not the same,” said Soledad Rodriguez, the victim’s sister. “Every Christmas, every birthday, he’s just not there. (Jones) killed us all ... for something cool to do. He killed all our family.”
“They destroyed us,” Guadalupe Bedolla said of the gang members who participated in the attack. “All we ask is for you to impose justice. To give us justice.”