An appeals court has overturned a lower court’s ruling that reduced a convicted murderer’s sentence by nearly a decade.
The 13th Court of Appeals issued its ruling last week in the case of 24-year-old Gabriel Hernandez, who in 2019 had filed two post-judgment motions for reconsideration seeking a reduction in his initial 40-year sentence.
Hernandez entered a guilty plea without a plea deal to a charge of murder on Dec. 17, 2018, in the 370th state District Court for shooting and killing 41-year-old Angel Sanchez on Oct. 1, 2017, at the Lipstickz Night Club.
On Feb. 6, 2019, state District Judge Noe Gonzalez sentenced him to four decades in prison.
In March, during a hearing, Gonzalez reduced the punishment to 39 years.
According to the appeal, by reducing the sentence by a year Gonzalez retained jurisdiction over the case for another 30 days.
“[I]n order for me to continue to maintain jurisdiction of the case and possibly reevaluate this case with more detail, having the victims here and stuff, the only thing I can do is consider the motion at this point. And if I modify this judgment, I maintain jurisdiction for at least another 30 days,” the ruling quotes Gonzalez as saying. “So at this time what I will do is for now … I am going to assess punishment not at 40 years, but at 39 years.”
After the hearing, Hernandez filed his second motion for reconsideration and in May 2019 another hearing was held where Gonzalez re-sentenced Hernandez to 30 years.
The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office appealed the second re-sentencing.
Hernandez had argued that the 39-year sentence was unconstitutional and excessive because it was disproportionate to the crime.
“Appellee argued that his sentence is ‘excessive in light of the evidence,’ noting that ‘the victim’s violent criminal activities and history with Defendant’s uncle lent to the circumstances which gave rise to this incident,’” the ruling stated. “The motion argued that appellee’s ‘early exposure to a violent, criminal lifestyle was a result of circumstances beyond his control’ and that both the indicted offense and the prior conviction ‘were based on incidents related to the drug trade.’”
His uncle is 43-year-old Miguel Angel Uvalle, who is his co-defendant in the case. The prior conviction was for manslaughter and that involved another shooting at a strip club which resulted in his cousin’s death years earlier.
“As to the 2017 murder charge, appellee explained that he was in a strip club with his uncle when they encountered Sanchez. According to appellee, Sanchez was a ‘dangerous’ drug trafficker and a ‘bad guy’ who had previously beaten up his uncle and who had threatened appellee that night,” the ruling stated. “Appellee claimed that he wanted to leave the club, noting that he had just been released from jail, but his uncle encouraged him to take cocaine and to shoot Sanchez. Appellee did so.”
In its ruling, the 13th Court of Appeals said the second sentencing was an abuse of discretion.
“It is apparent that, in this case, the trial court had ‘second thoughts’ about the sentence it initially imposed,” the ruling states. “That is not a permissible basis upon which to grant a new trial on punishment.”
Uvalle is scheduled for trial on June 1.
That is likely to be postponed, however, as the courts have canceled jury trials through July 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.