DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO) – Reality in a Polk County courtroom on Monday afternoon was painful.
“There’s a bullet in my head. It doesn’t come out. If it does, it could also lead to brain damage,” said Kemery Ortega, a Des Moines East High School student who survived a car shooting on the sidewalk in front of the school in March.
The words of families affected by a drive-by shooting in Des Moines in March were powerful. “In the end, I gain nothing if you go to jail or not. My son is still not coming back,” said Deborah Perez, who lost her son Jose Lopez in the shooting.
The result of the actions of many of those who carried out the shooting was purposeful. “The crime committed was planned, premeditated, and terrorist in nature,” District Judge Scott Rosenberg said.
Kevin Martinez, 16, who held back tears at the sentencing hearing, was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for his role with nine other suspects in a March 7 car shooting outside East High School. Three cars and dozens of bullets took the life of 15-year-old Jose Lopez and seriously injured two East High students, Kemery Ortega and Jessica Lopez.
Martinez admitted to being in the second of three cars during the shooting. “If there was anything I could have done differently that day, I would have talked to the other guys and tried to pull them out of the situation or encourage the others not to go. I would have said something that day and not remained silent. I regret the decision every day,” Ortega said.
Perez told Martinez his regret is an opportunity her son will never have. “Where’s my son’s second chance to go to college to actually do what he wanted to do?”
Jessica Lopez and Ortega fought for their lives after being innocent bystanders and made strong endorsements. Lopez said, “I don’t think they should be released any time soon. It’s not fair to us. I almost died too.”
The two teenage girls may have survived, but Ortega reminded Martinez that his role will impact their lives. “There are many things I can no longer do because it would damage my brain further.”
Addressing the court in a brief “Champion” reading, Ortega stood tall as one, offering Martinez some of the same hope she used to defend herself against a bullet to the head. “I believe you can come out of this and become a better man and a better person in this world,” Ortega said.
The victims showed sympathy for their attackers, sympathy that was not shown to them in that moment in March that changed many lives forever. Perez said, “I feel so bad every day because I have a little bit of joy when I do something with my boys because I miss one.”
Three other suspects are due to be sentenced on March 30. Three more will appear in court in the spring. The remaining two will be tried as juveniles.