The first La Plaza Mall robbery suspects to learn their fate received lengthy prison sentences.
On Thursday morning, 430th state District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. sentenced Brayan Oliver Melchor to 25 years in prison and sentenced Miguel Quintanilla Cardenas to 14 years.
Both men entered guilty pleas to five counts of aggravated robbery stemming from the attempted robbery of Deutsch & Deutsch last July with five other Mexican nationals who threatened the jewelry store’s security guard and used “mini sledge hammers” to smash glass cases as they attempted to run off with 300 designer watches valued at $2.7 million.
When the robbery happened, Saturday shoppers at the crowded La Plaza Mall panicked as the sound of glass smashing was mistaken for gunshots. Reports of armed gunmen at the mall terrorized shoppers.
Before their cases were called, Quintanilla and Melchor could be seen smiling, chatting and laughing with each other. However, when their cases were called, that changed.
During the sentencing hearing, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Lauren Sepulveda revealed that one of the men was armed with a BB gun.
Ramon handed Melchor the stiff 25-year sentence because in 2015, Melchor participated in a similar robbery in Los Angeles at a jewelry store in a mall where hammers were used to smash glass so he and his co-conspirators, who included Abner Zepeda Posos, could steal luxury watches.
“It’s almost an identical offense,” Ramon said.
Melchor received three years in that case and was deported. He illegally re-entered the country and will be deported again after serving his sentence.
During the hearing, Melchor claimed he was coerced into participating and asked for mercy.
“I’m just asking for an opportunity. I have a family,” Melchor told Ramon. “I did it because I was threatened. I’m just asking from the bottom of my heart if you can give me another opportunity.”
As for Quintanilla, Sepulveda revealed during the hearing that the man said he participated in the robbery because he wanted to see what it would “feel like.”
Ramon handed down the 14-year sentence because Quintanilla had no prior criminal history aside from illegal entry into the United States and because he cooperated with the McAllen Police Department.
When asked whether he had anything to say, Quintanilla said, “Just for everyone to forgive me for what I did … especially to the people there at the store and the mall.”
Ramon said he felt Quintanilla was the only defendant to show any remorse for the robbery that sent waves of fear throughout the community.