The incident occurred March 25, in Gomez’s home in the Fairfax Village Apartments. Fairfax County police initially charged Cruz Colindres with second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. And for the past eight months, he’s been held without bond in the Adult Detention Center.
The firearm charge was eventually dropped; and, on Aug. 14 in Circuit Court, Cruz Colindres pleaded guilty to the lesser felony offense of involuntary manslaughter. He returned to court last Friday, Dec. 1, to learn his punishment; and at that time, Judge Richard Gardiner added four more months to his sentence.
At the outset, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Clingan called one of the victim’s older brothers, Alexander Gomez, to the stand to testify. There, he explained how Javier’s death has affected him.
“I can’t describe his loss,” said Gomez. “It’s an emptiness – a hole inside, like a part of me was lost. Javi was amazing; he helped our mom pay rent and wanted to buy her a house someday. He was there to help and take care of others, more than he did himself.”
Crying, Gomez said, “All this pent-up anger about his death makes me lash out at my friends. I’d take Javi to school – he looked up to me. He was creative, energetic, ambitious and confident.” Saying he doesn’t care about his own life anymore, Gomez added, “I have no motivation to keep going. I’m lost; I don’t feel like I have anything to hold onto.”
Indeed, Clingan told the judge, “There’s a level of sadness that accompanies this case – shared by everyone, including the defendant, who knew the victim. And there’s also a shared sense of anger because this didn’t have to happen.”
He said the two young men were friends, but still basically boys – and good ones who didn’t get into fights or have drug issues or gang ties. “That night, they’d been drinking heavily – 31 cans of spiked, iced-tea lemonade – so the defendant didn’t know what transpired,” said Clingan. “They were sleep-deprived and intoxicated and came across a gun.”
“The victim was killed, and there’s a family who’s been traumatized because of the defendant’s recklessness,” he continued. “And his actions that led to the death of an individual deserve to be addressed. This [incident] involved a loaded gun that demanded a level of maturity and responsibility.
“The defendant brought it into the apartment, but with no nefarious intentions. He probably wanted to show it off. But you don’t have to put bullets in it and handle it – especially when you’ve drunk 31 cans of spiked-tea lemonade.”
Clingan noted that the state sentencing guidelines for this case are probation because Cruz Colindres had no prior criminal record. But he said these guidelines should be exceeded, and he explained why.
“The defendant showed an utter lack of a sense of duty and responsibility,” said the prosecutor. “A period of incarceration, around two years, is appropriate, plus three years’ probation. When you use a gun and alcohol – and someone’s killed because of your recklessness – there has to be a penalty.”
But Public Defender Dawn Butorac asked that Cruz Colindres be sentenced to his time already served. “At the time, Darren was 18 years old,” she said, also stressing that the 31 drinks he and Gomez drank that night in Gomez’s bedroom included BuzzBallz – a potent mix of fruit juice and alcohol.
“The victim’s brother heard the shot, came into the room and saw Darren on the ground, attempting to render aid to Javier,” said Butorac.
She noted, as well, that the bullet took an unusual path within Gomez’s body. “It entered through the left, upper chest and traveled downward to the right, mid back,” she said. “That [trajectory] is indicative of an accidental shooting,” said Butorac. “It was a tragic accident that no one anticipated. By then, they’d probably been drinking for eight hours straight. They had a brief argument, started pushing each other and the gun went off.”
Then, trying to illustrate Cruz Colindres’s otherwise good character, she told the judge, “Darren began working at a young age to help his family make ends meet. And 23 letters of support from all facets of his life were submitted on his behalf, including one from his manager at Wegmans, who said Darren worked two shifts and took multiple modes of transportation to reach his job.”
Butorac said the charge of involuntary manslaughter legally recognizes “the foibles of being human – because it was clearly contrary to Darren’s intent. He was young and dumb, and his immature brain didn’t consider the consequences of 31 drinks. Teenage boys often lack impulse control and make poor decisions because their brains haven’t yet fully matured.”
“Darren is incredibly remorseful – he lost a friend,” she continued. “He’ll now be a convicted felon, with all that entails. It’s a significant consequence for his future.” Then, besides asking for time served, she suggested Judge Gardiner also require Cruz Colindres to receive anger-management training and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Clingan, however, didn’t buy Butorac’s explanation for the defendant’s actions. “There’s a whole county full of 18-year-olds who didn’t do what he did,” said Clingan. “Otherwise, we’d have an epidemic of teen crime. This was someone who made a bad choice that led to the death of a friend.”
Then, before sentencing, Cruz Colindres stood and apologized for causing his buddy’s death. “I accept responsibility,” he said. “I know there’s nothing I can do to bring him back, but I apologize to his family for the grief I’ve caused. I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”
Ultimately, Judge Gardiner had the last say. “They were friends, but this was recklessness to the nth degree,” he said. “I agree, the guidelines should be exceeded. However, I also take into account that the defendant surrendered himself to the authorities and acknowledged what he’d done. I also acknowledge the letters of support and that he was a hard worker before this incident happened.”
The judge then sentenced Cruz Colindres to four years behind bars, suspending three years – leaving the defendant with four more months to serve. Gardiner also placed him on three years’ active probation.
Speaking directly to Cruz Colindres, he said, “The conditions of probation are that you are to have no alcohol, whatsoever, and be regularly tested for alcohol use. You are to receive cognitive behavioral therapy while on probation, plus be gainfully employed. You are remanded to the custody of the sheriff.”