An Arizona man was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison for his role in a home invasion and shooting death of a Fort Lewis College student.
Kodi Kuauhtli, 21, looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes at the end of the four-hour hearing in 6th Judicial District Court. He wore a tie, white dress shirt, gray slacks and shackles. He looked back at family and friends as deputies led him away.
He apologized to the victim’s friends and family, and sang a Native American prayer song during his statement to the judge.
“I want to take responsibility, I want to take accountability,” he said.
Kuauhtli was facing 10 to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary in a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Before the plea deal, he was charged with first-degree murder for his role in the shooting death of Samuel Xarius Gordon, 20.
The shooting occurred about 3:40 a.m. May 24, 2016, at 253 Jenkins Ranch Road in the SkyRidge subdivision east of downtown.
Kuauhtli and three co-defendants – Alvin Noel Flores, 22, of Phoenix; Kuauhtleko Garcia, 21, of Scottsdale, Arizona; and Daniel Nelson Wright, 21, of Phoenix – drove to Gordon’s house planning to rob him of his marijuana.
They wore hoodies, masks and had zip ties to detain people in the house. Two of the men were armed with handguns. When Gordon heard the commotion, he exited his upstairs bedroom with a flare gun and was shot once in the abdomen. He died a few hours later during surgery at Mercy Regional Medical Center.
Prosecutors said either Flores or Garcia pulled the trigger. Wright stayed downstairs, and Kuauhtli doesn’t appear to have entered the house.
Prosecutors portrayed Kuauhtli as the mastermind, or at least the “fabric” that brought the plan together. It was Kuauhtli who came up with the “thoughtless, ridiculous, violent plan” to break into Gordon’s home in the middle of the night to steal several pounds of marijuana, said Assistant District Attorney David Ottman. He called it a “crime of opportunity.”
Kuauhtli was friends with Gordon and knew the layout of the townhome.
His Durango defense lawyers said Kuauhtli lacked knowledge of the robbery plan until midnight and had no idea his co-defendants were armed with handguns.
District Judge William Herringer wasn’t buying it.
He said common sense and the weight of the evidence points to Kuauhtli knowing his co-defendants were armed. It also makes sense that he would stay outside because he was well-known by Gordon. The judge said Kuauhtli betrayed his friendship to Gordon.
“I’m not sure how well you knew Samuel Gordon, but I’m guessing you knew him well enough to know he was a good guy.”
Kuauhtli admitted to walking his co-defendants to the house because they couldn’t find it on their own.
Defense lawyer David Greenberg said Kuauhtli has no criminal history, is unlikely to re-offend, is not a danger to society and has built positive relationships.
He asked that Kuauhtli be sentenced to the minimum 10 years in prison.
About 14 family members and friends spoke on Gordon’s behalf, all who described Gordon as a gentle soul who loved nature. They wore green T-shirts with a tree printed on the front and the words “Justice for Sam” on the back.
Ryneal Lewis-Adams, a friend of Gordon’s, said he knew both Gordon and Kuauhtli. Gordon was in a tree shaking pears to the ground the first time they met. Gordon opened his eyes to nature, like so many others, and proved to be someone who could inspire others, Lewis-Adams said.
“Kodi, I hope you find your way, because Sam was a leader for all of those who were lost, and you took that,” he said Friday.
Some expressed forgiveness, but nearly all asked that Kuauhtli be given the maximum penalty.
Gordon’s mother, Jeanette Phillips, asked Herringer to reject the plea agreement and set the case for trial on first-degree murder, which carries a life-in-prison sentence if found guilty. She asked the same of all the co-defendants.
“I’m the one that got a life sentence, and I don’t deserve it,” she said. “I’ve been a good person and my son was a good person.”