The man who fired the bullet that killed 5-year-old Austin Ramos Jr. two years ago was sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday with no possibility of getting out early.
The sentence was the maximum allowed for first-degree reckless homicide. It also includes 20 years of extended supervision after release from prison.
Sergio R. Ortiz, 26, of Beloit, is the first of four defendants to see the end of his case.
Assistant District Attorney Mason Braunschweig said Ortiz was the main instigator of the horrific crime and portrayed Ortiz as a violent career criminal who flashed gang signs in the Rock County Jail after his arrest.
The other defendants have all told investigators Ortiz was the shooter, and as they drove from the shooting scene, Ortiz threatened to kill them if they told anyone what happened, Braunschweig said.
“If he gets out, he will shoot someone. He’s a shooter,” Braunschweig told the court after describing Ortiz’s crimes going back to age 11.
Judge Michael Haakenson said the public must be protected from Ortiz, and followed Braunschweig’s sentence recommendation.
The sentence came after tear-inducing statements from the 5-year-old’s mother and grandmother.
“I want Mr. Ortiz to know I watched my grandson die before my eyes,” said Alicia M. Martinez, who said she was begging the judge to impose the maximum sentence “so he will not hurt anyone else or their families.”
Martinez attended all the court hearings for the parents, who were too heartbroken to do so, Braunschweig told the court. She noticed the other defendants holding their heads in shame, while Ortiz never did, and he even smiled at one point, Braunschweig said she told him.
The boy, whom everyone called Junior, liked video games and superheroes, said his mother, Jasmin Martinez.
The courtroom was filled with family and friends of the victim, many wearing T-shirts with the letter “A” in a Superman-like emblem and the words “Our Little Superhero.”
Martinez described a boy whose smile could wipe away a hard day.
She remembered him crawling into bed with his parents at night: “I still think he will walk down those stairs and crawl into my arms.”
Braunschweig noted Ortiz’s brother had been shot in a gang shooting in 2014.
That night in 2016, Ortiz was looking for rival gang members to take revenge, the other defendants have said.
“He was looking to kill somebody. He was hunting,” Braunschweig said.
Braunschweig referred to what he called an epidemic of gun crime across the country. Some call for gun control, others for mental-health treatment, he noted, but he said at the local level, Rock County can impose maximum sentences to deter people like Ortiz from picking up guns.
“If they know that they are going away for a long time, that is what we can do at the local level—that’s all we can do at the local level—and we need to do that at the local level, and because of that I ask for the maximum penalty.”
The charge was reduced in a plea agreement from first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a life sentence.
The prosecution recommended the maximum sentence, as did Junior’s mother and grandmother. The defense argued for 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision.
Braunschweig painted a picture of Ortiz as a man who might never be rehabilitated and from whom the public must be protected.
Ortiz was in a car with three others and spotted Austin Ramos Sr. driving, followed the car and shot at it.
As reported earlier, Ortiz apparently acted in revenge for the killing of his brother in a 2014 Beloit shooting by a rival gang, but Ortiz mistook Ramos Sr. for someone else, Haakenson said.
Defense attorney John Smerlinski said it’s no excuse, but Ortiz has had a rough life: His father died when he was 12. His oldest brother was deported to Mexico for criminal activity. Another brother was shot dead.
The oldest boy in the family at that point, he dropped out of school to help the family, and rival gang members were soon after him, Smerlinski said.
Ortiz is not a cold-blooded killer and not a bad person, Smerlinski said, but he has been shaped by society.
Smerlinski noted Ortiz is charged with recklessness, not with intentionally killing someone.
“He regrets he pulled that trigger,” Smerlinski said, adding that Ortiz has a child who would be roughly Junior’s age.
Ortiz gave a short statement: “I want to tell the victim’s family I’m very sorry. And I know there’s no words to express how sorry I am. But I hope me pleading guilty gives them some type of relief.”
Haakenson called the case heartbreaking.
Haakenson said he does not believe Ortiz knew the child was in the car, and he noted Ortiz was looking for a rival gang member and intended to send a message to that gang.
“But his behavior leaves no doubt that he intended to shoot toward that car,” Haakenson said.
Haakenson described Ortiz’s “violent, troubling behavior, even as a child,” some of it predating his father’s death.
“He is a dangerous man who is willing to threaten, scare and harm others,” Haakenson said.
Haakenson gave Ortiz credit for 1,004 days he has served in jail while his case was pending. He banned Ortiz from prison rehabilitation programs that could reduce his sentence.
After sentencing, Ortiz signed papers waiving extradition to Illinois, where he faces charges related to a 2014 shooting, Haakenson said.
Haakenson spoke briefly to the family, giving condolences and advising them that if they are struggling, they should get help.
It won’t stop their pain, but it will help them cope, the judge said.
Smerlinski said he intends to appeal the case.