RALEIGH — Two teenage brothers who were not old enough to legally drive when they were involved in an August 2012 drive-by shooting were in adult court Wednesday accused of an adult-sized crime.
Brayan Hernandez-Sierra and Ceferino Hernandez-Sierra pleaded guilty in Wake County Superior Court to second-degree murder in the shooting death of a 16-year-old rival gang member — Fernando Garibay-Benitez.
Brayan, now 14, and Ceferino, now 17, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. They will be confined in North Carolina prisons until they are in their early 40s — with Brayan sentenced to at least 30 years and Ceferino to at least 26 years.
Garibay-Benitez, a rising sophomore at Millbrook High School, was walking along a sidewalk on Aug. 15, 2012, near the Lexington on the Green apartments on Rolling Green Court in North Raleigh. Beside him was a teenager on a bike – a boy who had been in scrapes with the law.
The Hernandez-Sierra brothers, 13 and 15 at the time, were in a minivan with two girls.
The brothers, according to testimony in juvenile court last year, told people they and the victim were in rival gangs. The brothers reportedly were affiliated with the TLS gang, and the victim and his friend were in BPA, or Brown Pride Aztec.
There was a brief exchange of words, according to court testimony, before shots were fired from the van.
Prosecutors contend the 13-year-old was the shooter and the 15-year-old was driving a white van with tinted windows.
There was no evidence the teens had ever met before or knew each other.
The teens in the van asked the teens in the street who they were and where they were from.
‘What are you banging?’
The older brother, according to witnesses, told the younger brother: “You don’t say, ‘Where are you from?’ You say, ‘What are you banging?’” using a phrase for finding out whether someone is in a street gang.
Then the 13-year-old boy lifted a dark-colored long-barreled gun from under a blanket between the two front seats, according to witnesses. Several shots were fired, they said.
The 16-year-old on the bike fled quickly.
Garibay-Benitez fell to the ground with a gunshot wound to his head, according to witnesses.
The case, which was transferred from juvenile court to the adult courts in December, has raised questions about whether teens, whose reasoning abilities are not fully developed, should be tried in adult systems that give little lenience for their age.
The case also offers a profile of a Raleigh neighborhood where gang activity was not unusual.
In court Wednesday, defense attorneys representing the Hernandez-Sierra brothers said they had tough childhoods and few positive male role models in their families.
Their father, older brother and an uncle all had criminal records and had done prison stints, either in this country or in Mexico, according to testimony.
Mike Klinkosum, a Raleigh attorney who defended the younger Hernandez-Sierra, told Judge Paul Gessner, who presided over the plea hearing, that it was “a sad case all the way around.”
Garibay-Benitez’s parents remain distraught by the violence that ended the life of their son, an avid soccer player and high school student who, they said, had been trying to turn his life around.
‘Children executing children’
In North Carolina, defendants typically are not in the adult court system until they are at least 16.
But under state law, when anyone 13 or older is charged with first-degree murder, their cases must be transferred to adult court.
Gessner, from the bench, commented on the many lives forever marred by the violence that occurred that August afternoon at a time when many teens are getting together after school to do homework, play sports, participate in extracurricular activities or head to part-time jobs.
“Children executing children,” Gessner said. “How did we get to this point?”
Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1