ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — A judge sentenced a young man convicted of beating two homeless men to death with cinder blocks and other objects to the maximum term of 67 ½ years in prison Friday after hearing tearful pleas for tough punishment from the victims' relatives.
Alex Rios, 20, apologized to the families and asked for mercy, but Judge Briana Zamora accused him of trying to minimize his role in the 2014 attack.
"I can't even call this a killing," Zamora told him. "This was torture."
A jury found Rios guilty last year of killing Alison Gorman and Kee Thompson, who had traveled to Albuquerque from the Navajo Nation to find work. The attack led city officials to establish a task force on Native American homelessness, though prosecutors did not say the victims were targeted because of their race.
Police say Rios and two of his friends attacked the men in the middle of the night as they slept on a mattress in a vacant lot. The others, both juveniles at the time, also were charged in the deaths.
Some family members wept and others tried to choke back tears Friday as they asked the judge to consider the severity of the crime in the sentencing. They told Zamora that Gorman and Thompson were loved dearly and the voids left by their deaths will always remain.
Rios, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled, told the families he was sorry and said he knew the pain they were going through. He said he should have called police or yelled at the other defendants to stop.
The youngest of the three pleaded guilty in September to second-degree murder and testified at Rios' trial, saying the teens decided to go to a lot where they beat the men after a night of drinking at a house party.
The assault lasted roughly an hour, with the three assailants leaving the scene after the first 30 minutes to get knives, according to testimony from the youngest, who was 15 at the time. The Associated Press is not naming him because of his age.
He also agreed to testify at the trial of the third defendant, set for September, under a plea deal that offers him the possibility of release when he turns 21.
Rios' lawyer, Daniel Salazar, said during trial that his client was present during the attack but didn't participate.
He said the jury's verdict in December showed they didn't find Rios as "culpable as the others" but held him accountable for failing to stop the attack. He reiterated that claim in his unsuccessful attempt to get Rios a shorter sentence.
Two second-degree murder convictions were the most serious against Rios and each carried a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. He also was convicted of aggravated assault, tampering with evidence and armed robbery.
Prosecutor Vincent Martinez argued Friday that evidence presented at trial showed Rios participated in what he described as vicious murders.
"These gentlemen were on a mattress. They were completely helpless. They were asleep. They could not defend themselves," Martinez said. "They were true victims. They never had a chance."