OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – A judge will decide if juvenile-lifer Juan Nunez, who shot and killed James “Scott” Anderson in a 1997 holdup at Holland’s Pereddies restaurant, has a chance at one day leaving prison alive.
After listening to testimony Tuesday, April 23, about the killing, Nunez’s history and prospects of being rehabilitated, Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing said he will decide Wednesday if Nunez will be resentenced to a specified number of years in prison or finish a life sentence without parole.
Mary Anderson, holding a photo of her son, told the judge: “This is who we’re really here for today. That’s my son, Scott Anderson. Juan killed my son.”
Nunez was 16, armed with a shotgun, when he shot Anderson, 22, the kitchen manager, in the face at nearly point-blank range. Anderson was then-recently engaged. He lived by his parents’ home as well as the restaurant.
He never wanted to be far from family.
“We were a close family and I was very close to Scott,” she told the judge. Nothing has been the same since her son was killed.
“I’m not the mother, anymore, that I was.”
She and her family, along with former restaurant manager, Lisa Richardson, who was led through the restaurant at gunpoint, and watched her friend’s killing, said Nunez should stay locked up for his first-degree murder conviction.
They are like a lot of other victims’ families, who took some comfort in knowing that their loved one’s killer would be locked up for life, no parole.
The U.S Supreme Court, however, determined that mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. So-called juvenile lifers were given the chance at having life sentences reduced to a minimum ranging from 25 to 40 years, with a maximum of 60 years.
Prosecutors have to show that a juvenile defendant exhibits “irretrievable depravity,” with rehabilitation impossible, to keep a young killer locked up for life. Ottawa County Prosecutor Ronald Frantz said Nunez hasn’t taken responsible for the killing, hasn’t shown appropriate remorse, and, diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder, he poses a danger to society.
“The bottom line is that the defendant Juan Nunez in 1997 intentionally took the life of Scott Anderson. It’s not an accident,” Frantz said.
He said that testimony showed that Nunez was running with the wrong crowd when the killing happened.
“I would argue he is the wrong crowd,” Frantz said.
The defense said that Nunez had a difficult upbringing. Nunez and three siblings were left to fend for themselves because both parents worked two jobs. But the other siblings have been successful.
“That’s the worst you can say about the family: the parents worked too much,” Frantz said.
Former Ottawa County probation officer Yale Pope testified that Nunez was an immature teen, but as a criminal, he was very mature.
Nunez’s attorney, Nicole Jongsma Derks, said her client had no guidance from his parents, who were rarely home.
He has a chance to succeed, and as he gets older, poses less of a risk of getting in trouble. He has a supportive family, a church to attend and strong interest in culinary education.
“Retribution is not the only interest to be served by the court,” Derks said. She said that he legally deserves “a meaningful opportunity to be released.”
She said mitigating circumstances, including his age, weigh in his favor. He has remorse and has admitted he killed Anderson. He admitted the robbery was planned but said the killing was not. He was so young and immature when the killing – an “inexcusable choice” – happened,” Derks said.
She said he left school at 15. He got into a lot of trouble. His parents were gone when he got up in the morning and gone when he went to bed, testimony showed.
“His parents failed him as a juvenile. He had no family support to help get him on the right track,” she said.
She said that doctors believe he has realistic goals for the future, including work as a cook.
“He’s really wrestled with his past and is truly remorseful,” she said.
Nunez’s family members testified that he keeps in close contact with them and has repeatedly talked to his young nieces and nephews about staying out of trouble.
He said he would like to help at-risk children to “change their futures.”
Nunez was 16 years, 10 months and 23 days old when he and three others – including two of the victim’s co-workers – planned the Sept. 17, 1997, robbery. Nunez brought his father’s loaded shotgun.
He shot Anderson as he led Richardson through the Washington Square restaurant at gunpoint.
Nunez said that when he was sentenced at 17, he didn’t fully grasp his prison sentence. In prison, “I felt lost, sad and confused, all at once,” he told the judge.
He said it was a “horrible and senseless crime that I’m responsible for, my actions.”
He said that he caused a lot of sorrow for both families, especially Anderson’s mother and his own mother.
“I want to be able to write a new chapter in my life if given the opportunity.”
For the Anderson family, which includes his father, James Anderson, and his sister, Melissa, who were in court, Nunez’s request for eventual release returns them to the day he was killed, they said.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my best friend, my brother,” Kevin Anderson told the judge.
“My kids celebrate his birthday. That’s all they know of him at this point. What’s lost is his impact on the world.”