The maximum possible sentence was placed on a man convicted of shooting Church's Chicken Employees in Otay Mesa which he will spend in state prison without probation.
A total of 146 consecutive years to life is slated for Albert Lee Blake, 51, who was found guilty on multiple counts relating to murder and attempted murder last month by a Chula Vista jury.
Two employees were hospitalized due to the shooting on Nov. 6 and Maribel Merino Ibanez, 28, was slain. An additional employee was targeted, but not injured.
Judge Timothy R. Walsh placed the maximum sentencing possible and denied the parole for the defendant.
“I’ve handled many violent cases. This is one of the most callus and senseless that I've ever seen,” Walsh said.
The judge addressed a motion filed by Defense Attorney Katie Nagler, requesting consideration to strike an allegation relating to the murders. “This is not a case for any punishment to be struck,” Walsh said in denying any striking or enhancements to Blake’s sentencing.
The defense attorney claimed no forensic evidence tied Blake to the restaurant and the eyewitness accounts varied, although all described a tall black man.
A counterfeit $100 bill was used by Blake to purchase food, but was rebuffed by Ibanez according to Deputy District Attorney Mary Loeb. Upon exiting the restaurant, Blake entered his car to change clothes in an effort to conceal a 9 mm pistol, then re-positioned his vehicle near the restaurant's exit to escape.
The prosecutor reported Blake fled to Memphis,Tennessee where he was arrested later that month. Evidence pulled from smart street-light cameras aided investigators in locating the shooter’s vehicle identified as a Dodge Charger.
Investigators found that Blake was contacted by police on previous occasions that year in a similar vehicle. According to Loeb, police tracked down Blake’s girlfriend using phone records and the same brand of ammunition used at the crime scene was found at her home.
Evidence found in the vehicle included gunshot residue on the gear shift and two counterfeit $100 bills. The prosecutor reported Blake’s cellphone did not move from the location of the shooting until after its occurrence. A secondary cell phone linked to Blake contained images that fit the shooter's description, ultimately leading to his arrest in Tennessee.
Family members of Ibanez along with employees who were impacted by the shooting presented impact statements during the sentencing.
Ibanez’s husband Ramon Mendoza shared through a translator how his life changed completely due to the murder of his wife.
“After that moment, he ended my happiness. I was very anxious for this day to come. I am very thankful because, finally, justice will be made. I want him to know that even if 100 years go by, it won't be enough because I wont get my wife back,” he said through a translator.
Being the only employee who wasn't injured by the shooting, Raquel Gutierrez vocalized how her life changed.
“My workplace was my safe place, my comfort zone,” Gutierrez said through a translator. “Every time I go somewhere where there are people I don't feel safe. I’m the one who supports my three daughters and I want to overcome this, mentally and emotionally,”
As for other punishments, the judge ordered the defendant a set of restitution of $10,000. Additional fines were slated, but are subject to modification.