38 years in prison for a Mexican victim of a fatal robbery in Arizona

PHOENIX — A Mexican man has been sentenced to 38 years in prison for killing an Arizona convenience store employee in a 2015 robbery that was cited by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans in complaints about immigrants who commit crimes while illegally in the United States.

Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty for Apolinar Altamirano in the attack on Grant Ronnebeck, the 21-year-old clerk who was fatally shot for a pack of cigarettes at the Mesa store. But a court later ruled that prosecutors could not proceed with his execution because Altamirano has an intellectual disability.

At sentencing on Friday, Superior Court Judge Justin Beresky called the murder in cold blood.

“I frankly think you should probably never get out of jail, but I will follow the plea negotiated between the state and the defense,” the judge said, referring to Altamirano’s previous guilty pleas for murder, robbery and others. charges.

Authorities said Altamirano killed Ronneback after the store clerk insisted that Altamirano pay for a pack of cigarettes before he could have them. They also said Altamirano then walked over to Ronnebeck to get several packets of cigarettes before leaving the store.

After killing Ronneback, police say Altamirano led officers on a high-speed chase before his arrest, and a handgun and an unopened pack of cigarettes were later found in his vehicle.

Ronnebeck’s family members have expressed grief over his death, describing him as a kind-hearted person whose life was unjustly taken.

“There’s no reason for what he did,” Steve Ronnebeck, Grant’s father, said of Altamirano. “There is no justification for what he did.”

The murder was cited by Trump at a rally during his 2016 campaign. During his first week as president, Trump established an office to serve victims of immigrant crime and their loved ones.

While studies suggest immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States, Trump has relentlessly sought to make a connection and portrayed Mexicans illegally in the country as violent criminals. The Biden administration closed the Trump-era office in 2021, replacing it with what it called a more comprehensive and inclusive victim support system.

Altamirano, a Mexican citizen who lived in the United States without permission for about 20 years, had been deported and returned to the United States in the past.

Federal immigration officials had said Altamirano, who was sentenced to probation in 2013 after pleading guilty to a charge of facilitating burglary, was awaiting deportation hearings at the time of the shooting death of Ronnebeck.

Emily Wolkowicz, one of Altamirano’s attorneys, said her client had suffered neglect and abuse as a child which affected his cognitive reasoning skills and was unable to function on his own as an adult without the help of his wife. When his wife died, he fell into depression and made bad choices.

In a letter read aloud in court, Altamirano said he was sorry for ruining the lives of Ronnebeck’s family and Altamirano’s own children. Altamirano said he wished he was stronger after the death of his wife, whom he had depended on since he was 15.

“I didn’t want to kill. I was going through so much. I’m not that kind of person,” Altamirano said. “It comes from my heart. I care about people.

He was recognized for the 7½ years he spent in prison awaiting trial for Ronnebeck’s murder.

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