EVERETT — A Lynnwood woman must serve 50 years behind bars for helping her boyfriend to carry out a pair of torture killings in Arlington and Mukilteo, a judge ruled Thursday.
The prison sentence is slightly longer than the combined ages of Mohamed Adan and Ezekiel Kelly, when their lives were brutally cut short by Anthony Hernandez-Cano, 20, and Lendsay Meza, 23.
A jury heard three weeks of testimony at the trial of the girlfriend, who drove Hernandez-Cano around in her Saturn early in summer 2018, while he tortured Adan in the back seat, beating him, burning him with a cigarette and taking pictures of his injured face.
On the witness stand, Meza said she was not a willing participant in the abduction and fatal shooting — she’d been too high to realize what was happening, an assertion she repeated at sentencing Thursday. One cellphone photo from inside of her car captured Meza watching as Hernandez-Cano — wearing gloves, holding a gun — looked down at something that’s out of the camera’s view, at the time and place where Adan, 21, was shot to death on the outskirts of Blue Stilly Park near Arlington. Her defense attorney Walter Peale told the jury it wasn’t clear if Meza was alert in the photo.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss made it clear he did not believe her denials. Neither did the jury.
“Where was your conscience throughout this?” Weiss asked.
That same week in 2018, Hernandez-Cano and his friend Hassani Hassani, 22, abducted Kelly together, torturing him in the backseat with a knife and a screwdriver, while Meza drove, again. In her trial testimony, she said at one point they stopped the car, and she beat him with a baseball bat. At a derelict house in Mukilteo, after Kelly had been tied up with tape and dragged like he was on a dog leash, Hassani fired the shots that killed him. He was 22.
Meza helped to cover up the killings. She took a video of the blood staining the seats of her car, and used a racial slur in anger over the mess that had been left behind.
In a statement to the court and the victims’ families, Meza said she had been manipulated by her boyfriend. Overcome with emotion, she let her attorney read aloud an apology to the two families.
“I would like to say I am not the type of person that is defined in the papers, or the court, or other people assume,” she wrote. “I am a loving, caring and very giving person. My biggest downfall is I am too trusting and I am oblivious to people’s faults. I always want to believe the best in everyone. I am a person who wants to help people. … Now I am paying the consequences of loving and wanting to believe in the wrong person.”
The flimsy motives for the killings appeared to be rooted in petty grudges held by Hernandez-Cano, who believed Adan “snitched” on him when he violated a no-contact order with Meza.
“I never would have thought the man I loved would hurt someone so tragically, especially over stupid jealousy,” Meza wrote.
Meza’s boyfriend later turned his anger to Kelly, an autistic student who had applied to study robotics at Bellevue College. Hernandez-Cano — “truly a monster,” in the words of deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson — is serving a life sentence for two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
Hassani pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping, for killing Kelly. He’s serving 35 years.
Weiss ruled Meza must serve two consecutive sentences of 25 years each, for first-degree murder with a deadly weapon.
“I live with the pain, regret, the nightmare of what happened, my part in it, and the fact that I didn’t know how to stop or fix it,” the defendant wrote in her letter. “ … All I can say is I am so very sorry for the part I played, and things I wasn’t strong enough to do.”
Members of Adan’s family attended the hearing Thursday, but did not speak in court.
Kelly’s parents, LaTonage and Elijah, brought a collage of photos of their granddaughter, now 5, who lives in another state. The poster sat on an easel at the front of the courtroom, in Meza’s line of sight.
“I want you to take a look at what you took from his daughter,” LaTonage Kelly said to her. “Just take a look. She will go the rest of her life without her father. … May God have mercy on your soul.”
Kelly’s mother said she prays for the defendant’s family, as well as Hernandez-Cano’s family, Adan’s family and her own. Next week, the Kellys plan to move to Texas, to be nearer to their son’s child and to find a fresh start.
“It’s not for you that we say we forgive you,” LaTonage Kelly told Meza on Thursday. “Forgiveness means, for us, so that we can have the healing, and so we can walk on through the rest of our lives.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.