Three boys were mourned Monday in a Pierce County courtroom.
The majority of the tears were for Hector Hernandez-Valdez, who was 15 when he died a gruesome death at the hands of brothers Luis and Cristobal Arroyo on June 1, 2012 in an apartment on Tacoma’s East Side.
The crime was shocking in its brutality and trivial in its motivations.
The Arroyos stabbed their neighbor more than 30 times before cutting his throat and stuffing his body into a recycling bin. They attacked to rob him of a small amount of marijuana and less than $200 cash, prosecutors contend.
“It is difficult to accept that our beloved son, our only Hector, has left this life in such a cruel manner,” the victim’s mother, Vera Valdez, said through tears Monday after the Arroyos, themselves just teenagers, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. “Our pain is so great that we don’t have the words to describe it.”
There also were tears for the Arroyos, neither of whom had a criminal record before attacking Hernandez-Valdez.
Their mother, Maria Ruelas, said she was heartbroken for Hernandez-Valdez’s family but also for her own sons, who she said would now have to live their lives “with the torture of regret.”
“I am torn in many directions,” Ruelas said.
There were more concrete penalties for the brothers as well.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Larkin sentenced Luis Arroyo, 17, to 26 years, eight months in prison. Cristobal Arroyo, 15, received a sentence of 24 years. The brothers were 16 and 14 at the time of the killing.
Both boys, who were prosecuted as adults, apologized to Hernandez-Valdez’s family, with Luis Arroyo saying he wanted them to know “how much I wish I could take it back.”
“I know my words might not mean much to you, but I want to say I’m sorry,” the elder Arroyo said.
Cristobal Arroyo, described by his defense attorney Jason Johnson as “a good kid who did a horrible thing,” wrote a letter to the court which Johnson read on his behalf.
The boy said he was remorseful, even if he didn’t show it publicly, and also felt bad for his own mother “for putting her through all the stress.”
Cristobal Arroyo said he hoped to put his time in prison to good use and come out a better person.
Before imposing sentence, Larkin implored Hernandez-Valdez’s parents to not let their pain paralyze them.
“I hope that you can somehow heal and move forward and live that happy live you said he would want you to live,” the judge said.
He then turned his attention to the brothers.
Larkin said he hoped they took advantage of their time in prison to better themselves.
“The opposite of that would be terrible, for what’s happening here to be repeated again in the future,” the judge said. “Make a better you.”