QUINCY — On Feb. 25, 2017 Jahantha Barnett’s life was changed forever. On that fateful day Barnett experienced something no parent should ever have to face: the death of a child. On that day 17-year-old Noel Cardenas made the decision to open fire at Barnett’s son, 17-year-old Jahleel Munnings, and his friend, Luis Nava Trujillo. Munnings died instantly, while Nava Trujillo sustained a gunshot wound to the shoulder and is alive today.
Barnett wasn’t too far away when the shooting happened and was able to walk up to where her lifeless son was lying on the ground, dead from a shotgun blast to the face. Then she did something that most people in her situation would not have done: she prayed for the person who had just shot and killed her son.
“I prayed. I prayed for Noel not even knowing who he was,” Barnett said while choking back tears on Tuesday. “I don’t hate Noel.”
Cardenas, now 19, of Quincy, was in court on Tuesday for a sentencing hearing after he previously pleaded guilty to first-degree murder (premeditated) and first-degree attempted assault. Following a joint recommendation between Deputy Prosecutor Ed Owens and defense attorney Brian Gwinn, Judge John Antosz sentenced Cardenas to a total of 425 1/4 months, a little over 35 years, behind prison bars. Cardenas’ sentence can be reviewed after 20 years, per Washington law.
Throughout Cardenas’ sentencing hearing on Tuesday members of Munnings’ family were given the opportunity to speak on the impact the teen’s death has had on them. One by one family members spoke and one by one across the board they let Cardenas know they forgive him.
“We have all forgiven Noel, but the anger and the hurt still plagues us all. The days that followed seemed like a nightmare that you could not wake up from,” Munnings’ grandmother, Linda Duckworth, told the court. “Noel not only caused so much turmoil and heartbreak in our family, he has damaged his own life and family and I wonder if he will ever realize the damage he has done. And I pray with my whole heart that while he is in prison he will find a way to make his life valuable.”
Munnings’ father, Corey Leach, said his son always wanted to have more siblings. Two weeks before Munnings died Leach and his wife found out they were pregnant, which later turned out to be twins, but they decided to not share the news immediately due to possible pregnancy complications. Munnings died without hearing the news, however, and never got the chance to meet his baby brother and sister.
“The girl is a spitting image of Jahleel as a baby and I have to relive this everyday,” explained an emotional Leach.
During his opportunity to address the court Cardenas said he has “lots of mental health issues” and he was off his medication for about three months before the incident due to a doctor, he claims, not wanting to fill his prescription. He expressed remorse for his actions and said on that fateful day he was on hard drugs.
“Nothing I say can bring back his life or give me back mine. That day two lives were lost,” he said. “I never got to go to prom or find a career that I am good at or to ever have the chance to start a family myself. I will never know what it’s like to have a normal life. If I could go back in time and do things different I promise I would.”
Both Gwinn and Antosz noted Cardenas grew up in a broken household and endured bouts of domestic violence in his home.
“I can tell you that I have not seen too many young men that have gone through as much as he has,” the judge stated.
Antosz was laudatory of the family members in the courtroom and exclaimed several times that in his years as a judge he has never presided over a sentencing hearing like the one he did on Tuesday with regard to the forgiveness that was expressed.
“What you have brought today I know has moved me deeply myself in seeing the great things human beings are capable of.”
On the day of the incident a Quincy Police Department officer was on patrol and reported seeing a male holding a rifle near an alley between I Street Southwest and J Street Southwest a few moments after hearing gunshots. The suspect, Cardenas, fired three more shots, one of which hit and killed Munnings. Two more shots were then fired, one of which struck Nava Trujillo in the shoulder. Cardenas was on the run for a few weeks after the shooting until he was ultimately apprehended near George.