EVERETT — In his first 18 years, Anthony Hernandez-Cano escaped the horrors of gang violence in Honduras. He will spend the rest of his years in prison.
Superior Court Judge Linda Krese ordered Hernandez-Cano to serve life behind bars without the possibility of parole Tuesday, for the torture and murders of two young men this summer.
Mohamed Adan, 21, of Seattle, was discovered beaten, burned and shot to death July 1, on the outskirts of Blue Stilly Park near Arlington.
The body of Ezekiel Kelly, of Everett, was found July 3 in a derelict home in Mukilteo. He’d been stabbed 27 times and shot in the head. He was 22.
Both were victims of Hernandez-Cano’s jealous anger, according to the charges.
“This is as brutal, and sadistic, and cruel of a series of murders as I have seen,” Deputy Prosecutor Craig Matheson said Tuesday. “The torture that both of these young men suffered at the hands of Mr. Hernandez-Cano, for the flimsiest of reasons — it is breathtaking.”
Hernandez-Cano believed Adan had “snitched” on him about violating a no-contact order with his girlfriend. Later someone told Hernandez-Cano it was actually Kelly who reported him to police, according to court papers.
Kelly’s mother, LaTonage Kelly, told the court Tuesday that her son overcame a challenging childhood. He’d enrolled in a robotics program for people with autism at a local community college. He had a young daughter.
“Still, to this day, our hearts are torn in many pieces,” Kelly’s mother said.
The story of how the defendant arrived in Snohomish County is told in a 200-page biography submitted by his defense.
Hernandez-Cano’s mother, a Honduran immigrant to the United States, gave birth on a visit back to her home country. Only his mother’s name is on the birth certificate from 2000. The boy lived in Honduras with relatives, whom he said would beat him with a shovel or a belt.
“You can still feel the scars all over his back from being beaten,” wrote Julie Armijo, an investigator for the defense. “He has seen friends killed in front of him.”
Hernandez-Cano spent his school years skipping class and running with gangs.
At the time he emigrated in 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world, according to U.N. statistics. He moved to Gwinnett County, Georgia, in the suburbs of Atlanta. An early brush with the law came at age 13, when he and an older brother were arrested in a home burglary of Nike shoes. Again, he was tied to local gangs. Often he was in trouble at school.
In 2015, he brought a pocket knife to class, but claimed he didn’t have plans to hurt anyone. He was expelled, and transferred to an alternative school. He told a forensic psychologist that he’d started smoking marijuana at 13 — “several blunts each day” — until he realized he needed to pass drug tests on probation. He acknowledged anger problems. He would run away, when he felt upset.
“Most notable,” a forensic psychiatrist wrote, “is his inclination to be emotionally apathetic, to exhibit a bland and unfeeling quality that is evident in the faintness of his affectionate needs, and to be unable to experience or manifest much joy, sadness, or anger.”
His probation ended in October 2016.
One month later, at age 16, he moved across the country to live with his girlfriend, Lendsay Meza. They’d been dating three years and were living in a Mukilteo apartment when he was booked into jail in June for violating a no-contact order.
Hernandez-Cano blamed Adan for the arrest. He recruited a friend and neighbor, Hassani Hassani, to help abduct Adan, court papers say. Hassani had feuded with Adan, too, when he accused the victim of trying to kiss his girlfriend.
Hernandez-Cano took photos of himself torturing Adan, then shot him.
The same week, Hernandez-Cano, Hassani and Meza kidnapped Kelly, according to charges. Court papers say Hernandez-Cano stabbed him, then handed a pistol to Hassani, who fired three rounds into his head.
Hassani and Meza are awaiting trial on aggravated murder charges.
Both times Meza’s car was used to drive to crime scenes. It was caught on a security camera near Arlington, leading detectives to the group.
Hernandez-Cano entered a guilty plea in August to two counts of aggravated murder. Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty, weeks before the state’s capital punishment law was struck down. The only possible sentence was life in prison.
“These crimes are particularly heinous,” Judge Krese said Tuesday. “ … The reasons seem to be sort of for revenge, but for what, it’s hard to account for. Certainly the indiscretion, or whatever it was Mr. Hernandez-Cano was upset about, seems to have been very minimal.”
Hernandez-Cano’s mother, Mirna, fought tears in court Tuesday, as she searched for words to say to the families of Adan and Kelly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That’s the only thing I can say right now. … I know, to everybody around here, he looks like a monster, but he’s not.”
Hernandez-Cano turned to the full courtroom gallery. He unfolded a letter he’d written. He spoke quietly and rapidly, in a 20-second apology.
Afterward, the grieving families embraced. Kelly’s parents had brought a collage of portraits. One picture showed their son in a red cap and gown, ready for his future.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.