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'Pure tragedy for everybody': Confessed killer goes to prison for firefighter's death

CREATED Feb. 11, 2013

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  • Video by 1041thetruth.com

    video
  • Sterling Lytle

  • Jesus Xavier Zepeda

  • Sarah Lytle-Barcelo

  • Brent Pierson

Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A family relives the moment they lost their son, and the man responsible learns how much time he'll spend behind bars.
 
Jesus Xavier Zepeda pleaded guilty in the death of Nogales firefighter Sterling Lytle, 26, in December. Tucson police said 39-year-old Zepeda ran down Lytle in June on North Alvernon Way. After a months-long search, Zepeda turned himself.
 
Monday, after hearing from both sides, a judge sentenced Zepeda to 6.5 years in prison for negligent homicide. He's already spent 199 days in jail, the hu
 
Zepeda had entered into a plea deal in which the minimum prison term was four years and the maximum eight years. According to the agreement, he must serve 85 percent of the sentence before being eligible for any kind of release.
 
Before making the decision, Pima County Superior Court Judge Scott Rash heard from both sides.
 
Lytle’s mother, Sarah Lytle-Barcelo, asked Rash for the maximum prison time, as did other friends and family members.
 
In the courtroom, Lytle-Barcelo presented large pictures of her son before the hit-and-run and afterward in the hospital, as well as an image of Lytle in his coffin.
 
Zepeda's attorney, Shawn Brunner, asked Rash for the minimum prison term. Brunner argued on the night of the incident, Zepeda "simply tried to point out" to Lytle's driver that his car lights were off, and things got out of control in part because that driver was drunk. Police on the scene described the driver as potentially intoxicated.
 
Zepeda told Rash, “It's awful -- what happened. I could go on forever, but nothing's ever going to make this right. The only reason why I did not turn myself immediately when I found out somebody was hurt was because the whole story was wrong. I was scared. I didn't have an attorney. I don't have money for an attorney, and I was in shock.”
 
Rash said he’d also received hundreds of letters from both sides.
 
During the actual sentencing, Zepeda was alert and focused on Rash.
 
“I guess it's better than four years,” said Lytle-Barcelo outside the courthouse afterward.
 
“While I would've liked to have seen life (in prison), that wasn't going to happen,” she said. “Eight years is a long time for someone's life, but Sterling will never have an opportunity to come out of his grave and live life.”
 
“He is an evil man and he needs to serve time,” Lytle-Barcelo added.
 
“We feel like it was just a failure of the justice system to hold the right people accountable,” said Brent Pierson, a longtime friend and former boss of Zepeda. “Even though Xavier may not have turned himself in accordingly, there were more people -- the other driver --- that took a larger role or a large role in the outcome of the unfortunate death of Sterling Lytle.”
 
“It almost seems as though now the judge just split the difference in order to compromise for other sides,” Pierson added.
 
“The driver led him into the situation and I don't think the family and the mother is willing to accept the fact that he did play a role in own fate,” Pierson also said.
 
KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen asked Lytle-Barcelo, “You believed that justice would be served. Do you think it has been?” “There's never going to be enough justice for taking Sterling's life. Never. Ever,” she answered. “But I think the justice system did what they set out to do.”