Utah killer will spend life in prison without parole for 2007 murder
Ramona Gonzales thought she would feel satisfied Monday as a judge sentenced the man who shot and killed her son to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
It was what she asked for. But not what she wanted.
"I thought knowing he's going to spend the rest of his life in prison would make me feel better," she said after the sentencing. "But it doesn't. I just want my son back."
Anthony James Prater, 29, shot and killed 35-year-old Vincent Samora in a drive-by on Nov. 27, 2007. Prosecutors said the shooting was an act of revenge meant to silence Samora, who testified against Prater's "homeboy" in a 2005 shooting case.
Prater did not speak at Monday's hearing in 3rd District Court. He did not testify in his own defense at the February trial.
But prosecutors and Samora's family said they know he's not sorry.
"He doesn't acknowledge what he did," Gonzales said. "He treats it like what he did meant nothing. But what he did meant the world to me and our family."
Prater leaned forward as the victim's mother and nephew, Chris Gonzales, asked Judge Robin Reese to sentence Prater to the maximum life without parole.
Wearing a yellow jumpsuit, head shaved to reveal multiple tattoos across his skull, Prater remained expressionless as the young man told the judge about his uncle. He stared back as the mother, dressed in all black and wiping tears from her face, turned to look her son's killer in the eyes.
Prater was convicted by a jury in February of first-degree felony counts of murder and obstruction of justice, as well as five counts of third-degree felony discharge of a weapon from a vehicle.
Defense attorney Ed Brass said Monday that his client will likely appeal the case.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys insisted Prater was framed, claiming the shooter had instead been Ryan Sheppard, who drove the car in which Prater was riding.
Sheppard testified at the trial in order to secure a plea deal. He admitted to driving the car, but said he didn't know Prater had a gun or meant to shoot anyone the day Samora was killed.
Prater's attorneys pointed to the plea agreement as a motive for Sheppard to lie.
Samora was shot to death as he sat in the front seat of a car parked in the driveway of his mother's Salt Lake City home.
It was still dark outside when his mother and son heard gunshots crackle in the front yard.
"Every time I look out that front window, I see my son dead in that car," she said. "I want to see him saying, 'I love you, Mom,' or him playing with his son. But instead, all I see is how he looked after that shooting."
Gonzales, who has custody of Samora's now-14-year-old son, said there isn't a day that passes without memories of the shooting. The son, who declined to speak before the court Monday, was 8 years old when his father was killed.
The judge said he imposed the maximum sentence due to Prater's lengthy criminal history he has been in and out of the criminal justice system for 17 years of his life gang ties, lack of remorse and disregard for others' well-being. Reese noted that there was another person with Samora when Prater shot up the car.
"It's a miracle, frankly, that this other person wasn't injured or killed," the judge said. "Life without parole, it's a long time, it's a hard sentence. I appreciate that. But this was absolutely in cold blood."
The judge also ordered that Prater pay full restitution in the case, the amount of which will be determined in coming weeks.
Prosecutor Vincent Meister said the judge's ruling was about more than this case: It sends a message about witness intimidation.
"When you go after a witness, the court is going to impose the maximum sentence," Meister said after there hearing. "There's no tolerance for that kind of behavior."