SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Three Los Angeles men who participated in the carjacking of a man and his then-girlfriend in Pacific Beach because the male victim owed money for a drug debt were each sentenced Friday to life prison terms.
Getaway driver Gustavo Martinez and co-defendants Rafael Ortiz and Raymundo Quezada were convicted on June 7 of two counts of kidnapping during a carjacking and evading police with reckless driving.
Martinez, who was also convicted of being armed with a gun, was sentenced to 17 years to life behind bars by San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser.
Ortiz, 24, and Quezada, 25, each received 11-year-to-life terms.
Prosecutor Mark Amador said either Ortiz or Quezada had another gun in the back seat.
Two other men - Daniel Jasso and Arturo Galaraza - pleaded guilty to kidnapping before trial and were each sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Martinez, 22, faced up to 34 years to life in prison and Ortiz and Quezada faced 16 years to life, but Fraser said it was important to reflect parity in sentencing.
The judge said the carjacking and resulting chase - at speeds of up to 100 mph - happened because of a lost shipment of marijuana worth between $70,000-$100,000.
He said the unsophisticated and bungled crime could have resulted in someone being killed or injured.
"It was an absolute miracle that that didn't happen," the judge said. Fraser said the defendants were "about as bad kidnappers as you can get."
Attorneys for Martinez, Ortiz and Quezada argued that a life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.
The attorney for Ortiz, Liesbeth VandenBosch, said her client had minimal participation in the crime and argued that he should be placed on probation.
But Fraser disagreed, saying the female victim in the case, Sylvia Arellano, was "absolutely terrified" during the ordeal, which happened as she went to breakfast with her then-boyfriend, Joshua Castrillon.
"She is a law-abiding citizen. He is a drug trafficker," the judge said. "The evidence is overwhelming in this case."
Amador said there could have been a number of head-on collisions during Martinez's erratic driving, some against oncoming traffic.
The prosecutor said all of the defendants had relatively insignificant criminal records when they decided to travel to San Diego to help Jasso and Galarza get money out of Castrillon, who could have been killed.
"They jumped into the big leagues here," the prosecutor said.
Castrillon previously testified that Arellano originally covered for him after the couple got carjacked on Feb. 2, 2009.
Castrillon told Arellano that he would be going away for a few days and was in some trouble, but didn't tell her he owed money on a drug debt.
According to court testimony, Castrillon was a known drug dealer who was responsible for a lost load of marijuana, and Jasso and Galaraza arranged for the other three defendants to pull off the carjacking in broad daylight.
Arellano testified that she and Castrillon were going to breakfast when three men wearing dark clothing and gloves jumped into her BMW. She said one carjacker had a Taser and another had a gun.
The carjackers drove onto eastbound Interstate 8, threw handguns out of the car, then suddenly jumped out of the vehicle at the center divider, Arellano testified.
The defendants quickly hurdled the barrier and ran across the westbound lanes of the freeway and were later captured in a nearby riverbed.
Police who pulled up on the scene first thought the couple were suspects, but realized they were victims of a crime, Arellano testified.
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