Jorge Lizarraga swaggered into a King County courtroom on Friday, affecting a bored air as he was sentenced to 38 years in prison for shooting a promising young athlete in the back on Halloween 2010 with a gun he stole days earlier from a state trooper’s house.
Despite his age, Lizarraga, now 23, has amassed a lengthy juvenile and adult criminal record, said Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi, who presided over Lizarraga’s seven-week trial for the murder of 18-year-old Devin Topps in Kent.
The events that led up to Topps’ death were not a series of accidents, but the result of “very conscious decisions you made,” Oishi told Lizarraga, adding that he consistently displayed “a certain degree of callousness and lack of remorse” for gunning down a “promising student athlete.”
“You are an extreme danger to society,” the judge told him.
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In addition to second-degree murder with a firearm enhancement, a jury also found Lizarraga guilty in December of residential burglary, theft of a firearm and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with the burglary at the trooper’s house, court records show.
The same jury also found him guilty of possession of a stolen firearm and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with a 9-mm handgun stolen in a different burglary, according to the records.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Berliner — noting Lizarraga’s “breathtaking crime spree” before and after killing Topps — didn’t ask for an exceptional sentence above the standard range. But she did successfully argue for the judge to find an additional aggravating circumstance that Lizarraga had committed multiple offenses in the same time period.
Oishi also agreed to Berliner’s request that Lizarraga serve his sentence for murder after he completes a seven-year sentence for a variety of crimes he pleaded guilty to in August 2012.
Defense attorney Jerry Stimmel had asked the judge to impose a low-end sentence of just under 30 years to run concurrent with his earlier sentence. Stimmel said his client intends to appeal his murder conviction.
Lizarraga declined to address the court, but briefly showed a hint of emotion when he made eye contact with Topps’ father, Nathan Beeler Bell.
“Whatever you have to go through, I hope you become a stronger man because I know where you’re going,” Beeler Bell said. “When you’re in there, remember that Devin’s dad forgives you so you can forgive yourself, because two lives have been lost.”
Just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2010, Kent police were called to a shooting in the 20200 block of 92nd Avenue South, where they found Topps lying on the ground and bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound, according to court records. Medics tried to revive Topps, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Several .40-caliber shell casings were found nearby.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office later determined Topps had been shot once in the back from close range, the records say.
Kent police investigators determined that Topps was at a Halloween party when a number of uninvited people arrived at the house. When the party crashers were told they should leave, a fight broke out. Topps fought one of them, and apparently won the bout. That’s when one of the party crashers — Lizarraga — pulled a gun and shot Topps in the back as Topps walked away. Lizarraga was arrested that December.
Topps was a varsity starter as linebacker and running back in his sophomore and junior years at Kentridge. He was a top college recruit with the potential to be a Pac-10 conference football player, but suffered a knee injury in 2009.
Topps, who also played basketball at Kentridge, earned a full scholarship to play football at Eastern Washington University.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org