ALAMOSA — Taking into account the circumstances that led him to commit the crimes, the Probation Department’s recommendation, his lack of criminal history and the forgiveness extended by his victims, District Judge Michael Gonzales on Wednesday gave Jeremiah Kennedy, 24, probation for a March robbery at 1st Stop and subsequent assault on a detention center officer.
The judge sentenced Kennedy to three years in the Department of Corrections (DOC) for felony menacing and a year in DOC on a felony drug charge related to the robbery incident in addition to four years in DOC on a felony assault charge related to the incident at the jail. However, the judge suspended the prison sentences and placed Kennedy on probation instead with conditions including continued mental health, substance abuse treatment, letters of apology to the victims, 200 hours community service and no alcohol or drug use.
Since Kennedy had served 235 days in jail, the judge ordered him released on Wednesday.
Judge Gonzales said although Kennedy’s crimes deserved prison, he would give him the opportunity to be supervised on probation because he did not have a criminal history and does have a strong support system. The Probation Department and Kennedy’s attorney James Valenti recommended probation, and Deputy District Attorney Brendan Johns recommended time in the Department of Corrections.
Judge Gonzales told Kennedy if he does not follow the conditions of probation and maintain his sobriety and treatments, “I will put you in prison.”
The judge added, “you are getting an opportunity I probably would not usually give for a case like this … You are getting a big second chance.”
The judge said although the crimes Kennedy committed were serious and created a danger to innocent victims, he believed Kennedy was someone who could safely be monitored on probation.
Johns recounted to the judge that on the evening of March 29 Kennedy robbed at knifepoint the 1st Stop and took $250 from the register. When he was arrested, he also had heroin in his possession. A matter of hours later, in the early morning hours of March 30 when Kennedy was being booked into the detention center he assaulted a deputy, Johns added. Kennedy jumped up, grabbed the deputy by the neck and body slammed him into the wall, Johns said.
Johns said that while Kennedy has a family who supports and loves him, the deputy also had a family that expected him to come home safely after working to keep the community safe.
“These are particularly disturbing offenses,” Johns said. He recommended three years in the Department of Corrections on the menacing case and six years on the assault case, to run consecutively.
Valenti said he did not dispute any of the facts of the case but wanted to provide a context for Kennedy’s crimes. Valenti said as a teenager Kennedy had witnesses his father’s suicide and suffered from extreme depression and suicidal leanings himself. He had been hospitalized multiple times and has been diagnosed with PTSD, Valenti said.
“He has been dealing with this a long time,” Valenti said. “To make matters even worse, he was self medicating through heroin.”
Valenti said at the time of the robbery Kennedy had recently lost his job and had actually been pretending to go to work for about a week before the robbery. His wife was pregnant and asked him to get some milk, but he didn’t have money for it, Valenti said, so he decided to rob the 1st Stop and then kill himself. He wrote suicide notes to family members. The video surveillance shows that Kennedy went in and out of the parking lot before going in to the 1st Stop.
Valenti said when Kennedy showed the knife to the clerk at 1st Stop, he (Kennedy) began to cry, at which point the clerk asked him what was wrong and had compassion for him, seeming to have more concern about Kennedy than about himself. (“He wants you to get help … That’s a pretty forgiving individual if you ask me,” Judge Gonzales said.) Valenti said Kennedy did end up taking money from the store and bought some heroin with some of it before he was apprehended.
When his earlier attempt at suicide did not work, Kennedy tried to commit “suicide by cop” by attacking the detention center officer, Valenti said. The jail staff is not armed, however.
Valenti said he had been surprised to hear what Kennedy was accused of doing because whenever he met with him, Kennedy was very kind. What became clear to him, he said, was that Kennedy was someone who needed help and with that help could be successful on probation, as he had once before. He added that Kennedy has strong family support, and they will help him be successful.
Kennedy’s wife spoke to the judge, as did his mother and cousin. His wife told the judge that the family knows what to look for now and will be able to help him. She said her husband was a good man who made bad decisions and while he has been in jail has had time to think. She said their 6-week-old son and Kennedy’s 2-year-old stepdaughter need him.
Kennedy’s mother and cousin said he had had a rough upbringing with an alcoholic father who was abusive and wound up taking his own life in 2008. His grandfather subsequently died from cancer.
They said they believed that now, especially being a father, he would have motivation to change his life for the better, and they would be there to help him.
“I have changed … Actions speak louder than words,” Kennedy told the judge. “I would like the chance to prove them.”