Gang member sentenced as an adult for first-degree assault

Seth Friendly was 16 when he shot at a 17-year-old girl who was dating a rival gang member.

EVERETT — The system isn’t set up to heal the wounds that 17-year-old Seth Friendly bears from childhood.

He will go to prison and to survive he likely will adapt to that life, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph Wilson said. “There are no good consequences in the future here,” he said.

Wilson pointed out that because Friendly was convicted as an adult, he faces much stiffer penalties — a lengthy prison sentence and all it carries — for crimes he committed at age 16. The adult system is set up to punish and warehouse, not rehabilitate, Wilson said.

Most people he encounters are redeemable, the judge said. And most often young defendants who come before him have experienced trauma. “They’re broken. Our system is not designed to fix that break,” Wilson said.

The judge sentenced Friendly to nearly 13 years in prison, a low-end term under the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

A jury convicted Friendly, a gang member, of first-degree assault with a firearm for gunfire June 6, 2016, near an apartment building on Casino Road. The target was a 17-year-old girl who was dating a rival gang member. She was not injured.

Friendly had turned 16 about a week before the shooting. His neck is tattooed with the initials of a south Everett gang. Police found those same initials freshly spray-painted on an electrical box near where the shooters would have been standing.

Friendly also was suspected of taking part in another shooting about a week later.

The boy was charged as an adult because of the serious nature of the crime.

Everett defense attorney Thomas Cox fought to have the case handled in juvenile court, where Friendly would have faced a couple of years behind bars. Cox argued that Friendly had no prior record and would have a greater chance at rehabilitation in the juvenile system.

He renewed his argument Thursday, asking the judge to take into account his client’s age, background and the positive changes he has made while being locked up at Denney Juvenile Justice Center for more than a year. Friendly is bright and has done well at school while incarcerated, the judge was told.

Cox asked Wilson to spare Friendly any time in adult prison. He asked that he be held in juvenile lock-up until his 21st birthday.

In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has made findings recognizing that young people’s brains are fundamentally different from adults. That acknowledgment has shifted how courts are asked to consider punishment for juvenile defendants, including an analysis of culpability given their development as well as their capacity for rehabilitation.

“We have a chance right now, at his age, to turn a corner,” Cox said.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Katie Wetmore on Thursday asked for a 15-year sentence, saying the shootings were planned and not impulsive acts. The victim, she said, left the state because she’s afraid of gang retaliation.

“He deserves a high-end sentence. The community deserves to be safe,” Wetmore said.

There have been dozens of gang-related shootings in Snohomish County in the past two years. Gangs have been warring in south Everett, inside and outside city limits. A 14-year-old boy was shot to death earlier this month over the color of his shoes. A 13-year-old boy is charged with murder for the killing.

On Thursday, Friendly apologized for traumatizing his victim. “I don’t want people in my community to be afraid of me,” he said.

“I just want to do something with my life that doesn’t hurt anyone,” he said.

Wilson was bothered by the decision in front of him.

Some of Friendly’s most formative years will be spent behind bars, locked up with older and more seasoned criminals. Prison isn’t designed to turn people into model citizens, the judge said.

Yet, he said, he wasn’t presented with anything that would support going below a standard range sentence. The defendant is intelligent and doesn’t suffer from a mental illness, he said. He wasn’t given evidence to suggest that Friendly lacked impulse control or was involved because of peer pressure. “I’m not seeing what these studies are asking me to look for,” Wilson said.

Friendly took part in two planned shootings, which easily could have resulted in someone getting hurt or killed, the judge said.

“Mr. Friendly I am sorry we don’t have anything to bring to you that would be a different outcome,” Wilson said.

The teen is expected to be held in a juvenile facility until he’s 18. He could stay until he’s 21 if he meets certain criteria. He would serve the rest of his time in adult prison.

Wilson recognized what the young man is facing. He encouraged him to find a way back from it.

“The story of (a) man is never done until his last breath,” Wilson said. “What is happening now does not have to measure you.”

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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