Killer ‘had history of knocking people out’

Sahr Mbawa

Family members sat numbly for a few moments after the heavy courtroom door closed behind the attacker who had claimed the life of their husband, father, uncle, brother and friend.

Minutes before, the Martinez family spilled tears, emptying a tissue box in the courtroom while sharing stories about 32-year-old Richard Martinez, whose life was cut short by a November fight outside a downtown Grand Junction bar.

“I don’t understand how you can hit someone so hard you cause their death,” the slain man’s mother, Anna Martinez, said to her son’s killer.

For his actions, 27-year-old Sahr Benjamin Mbawa will spend the next 32 years in prison, a sentence he agreed to when he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of reckless manslaughter and second-degree assault stemming from the Nov. 3 attack in which Mbawa repeatedly punched and kicked Martinez outside Quincy Bar, 609 Main St.

The length of Mbawa’s prison term is extended because he is being prosecuted as a habitual criminal for three previous drug-related felony convictions.

Mbawa, too, choked back tears as he addressed Martinez’s family. While sitting at the defense table, he was allowed by the victim’s family to look toward them while addressing them. The exchange prompted sobbing from both sides.

“I’m a human being. I made a mistake. Things got out of control. The next thing I knew I was driving a car with no brakes,” Mbawa said, his voice strained with emotion.

Mbawa’s attorney, public defender Stacie Colling, said her client is remorseful about the incident every day and “never intended for Mr. Martinez to die.”

She said Mbawa was perplexed that his actions caused Martinez’s death, and the coroner’s report indicated Martinez’s high blood-alcohol content that night must have helped create the “perfect storm,” because the injuries weren’t as severe as others seen in beating deaths.

“I hope people can understand he is not a monster,” Colling said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein countered that characterization.

“He had a history of knocking people out,” he said. “There’s no doubt that Mr. Martinez did nothing to provoke this.”

Two months before the fatal fight with Martinez, Mbawa was in a fight in Gunnison County in which he punched three people, rendering two of them unconscious with the first punch. During that fight, a third person jumped on Mbawa’s back, and Mbawa threw him to the ground and punched him in the chin, which caused him to lose consciousness, the report said.

Martinez’s family said they were most saddened because witnesses said Martinez didn’t start the fight, and it didn’t appear that anyone helped him in his last moments alive.

Mbawa was sucker-punched at Quincy Bar that night by someone other than Martinez, Rubinstein said, adding, “(Mbawa) wanted to get back at somebody for what happened. The result has been devastating.”


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