A steady stream of criminal defendants regularly arrive in U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford's stately, 10th-floor, Santa Ana courtroom for sentencing, insist they'll never offend again and, sometimes while employing tears, seek leniency.
Most of the criminals are probably just telling the judge what they think he wants to hear, but one 26-year-old Orange County defendant landed in Guilford's court this month with undeniable proof he is leaving his gang and wants to turn his life around.
In fact, this defendant left himself no choice. He alerted the FBI to a murder plot involving his criminal street gang. Now, he's a likely retaliation target for assassination.
Shackled with body chains, wearing a tan-and-blue Santa Ana Jail jump suit and guarded by two U.S. marshals, the former Eastside Anaheim gangster–whose identity the Weekly is not revealing–awaited punishment in a sealed hearing for selling weapons and narcotics.
At the outset, Guilford announced federal sentencing guidelines for the case called for a maximum potential punishment of as much as 97 months before the judge applied mitigating factors.
"It took some courage," Guilford said to the defendant about giving the tip to the FBI. "The government certainly appreciates the cooperation you provided–as does the court. There were and there are risks to you."
The defendant, who earned a GED while in custody, claims he has permanently renounced his gang ties.
"I don't like that life, and I'm tired of it," he said. He also acknowledged his cooperation with federal agents means he has to "look over my shoulder every day," but it's worth it if he can "get a second chance."
Guilford agreed "the cooperation is worthy of credit" because "it underscores you want to get better."
Assistant United States Attorney Robert J. Keenan also believed the defendant–who was poised and articulate throughout the hearing–deserved a significant sentencing break and recommended a term of 46 months in prison.
The judge considers the defendant's narcotics and weapons offenses serious.
"Meth is a bad deal," said Guilford, a 2006 appointee of President George W. Bush. "It destroys lives. I hope the message gets out: Sell that poison, and you will do time."
But the judge thought the cooperation with the FBI warranted more credit than the prosecutor recommended. He announced the "just punishment" is 41 months.
"You've had a tough life, and you're an intelligent man," Guilford told the defendant. "I see goodness in [you], and I hope you can rise to that goodness."
The defendant, whose rap sheet is devoid of violent crimes, nodded in appreciation.
"I hope you turn your life around," the judge continued. "I've cut you some slack. I really do wish you the best."
With U.S. marshals preparing to escort him away, the defendant replied, "Thank you, sir."