16-year-old sentenced to probation in North Lawrence shooting
photo by: Mugshot courtesy of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office
A 16-year-old boy was sentenced on Monday in Douglas County District Court to three years of probation in connection with a 2021 shooting in North Lawrence that injured a young woman.
Eduardo Martinez-Diaz, 16, was one of three teens who were alleged to have gotten out of their vehicle and fired multiple rounds at another vehicle, hitting Caylee Nehrbass in the head on May 27, 2021. Nehrbass was a passenger in a car with her then boyfriend, Javier I. Romero, 19, of Lawrence. Nehrbass testified in October of 2021 that she still had bullet fragments in her head from the shooting.
Martinez-Diaz was originally charged with two counts of attempted first degree-murder. He was 15 at the time of the incident and was ordered in June 2021 to stand trial as an adult.
A trial was scheduled this month for Martinez-Diaz, but he accepted a plea agreement in December that reduced his charges from attempted murder to two felony counts of criminal discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle. He pleaded guilty to the charges.
On Monday, Martinez-Diaz was sentenced by Senior Judge Merlin Wheeler to 36 months of probation with an underlying sentence of 64 months in prison. Wheeler said the sentence is for 32 months in prison on each count to run consecutively if Martinez-Diaz cannot complete his probation. The charges also require Martinez-Diaz to register as a violent offender for 15 years.
The use of a firearm in such an incident would normally require prison time regardless of criminal history, but Martinez-Diaz’s defense attorney, Hatem Chahine, filed a motion to depart from a prison sentence. Chahine said that Martinez-Diaz was only 15 at the time of the incident and that since he has been on pretrial supervision he has not violated any terms of his supervision. Chahine said that Martinez-Diaz underwent a psychological evaluation prior to sentencing that showed he was of a normal demeanor and not a risk for repeat offenses. Chahine added that five years in prison hanging over Martinez-Diaz’s head would be a strong incentive to stay out of trouble.
Martinez-Diaz said during the hearing that he was “very sorry” for his actions. He said he is currently a junior in high school and is on track to graduate on time. Martinez-Diaz said he doesn’t have immediate plans for college but that he will likely go to work after finishing school.
Wheeler asked Martinez-Diaz if there was a lesson he learned from this experience.
“I have learned not to be in situations that are dangerous, and I need to think about stuff before I do them,” Martinez-Diaz said.
Wheeler said that Martinez-Diaz should consider himself lucky that the victim didn’t die because he would have gone to prison.
“One thing you should have learned is that you are responsible for your own actions,” Wheeler said.
Representing the state at the hearing was Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Tatum, who said that the plea bargain was “not entered lightly” and that the state does not believe that Martinez-Diaz was actually one of the shooters from the incident but was aware that the shooting was about to occur and did nothing to stop it.
“He was not one of the gunmen. We believe he knew the shooting was going to happen and he did not remove himself,” Tatum said.
Martinez-Diaz knew enough to go to the trouble of dropping his girlfriend off before the shooting occurred so she wouldn’t be hurt, Tatum said.
Of the other defendants in the case, Ontareo X. Jackson, 19, pleaded no contest to the charge of attempted second-degree murder and was sentenced to 59 months, or nearly five years, in prison in April 2022, as the Journal-World reported.
Alejandro Martinez-Diaz, Eduardo’s older brother, is still awaiting trial. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 15 for a status conference in an unrelated drug case. His trial date for the shooting has not been set after a key witness in the case, Romero, refused to testify. Alejandro is currently being held at the Douglas County Jail on a $250,000 bond.