The mother who lost her son during a knife attack in Gainesville 14 months ago spoke Tuesday at the sentencing hearing of the man who took her son’s life.
Tearful and still grieving, Griselda Valtierra turned to defendant Eric Aurelio Reyes and told him, “I forgive you.”
Reyes looked up at the woman, listened and nodded as she spoke directly at him.
“I’m just a mom...,” she said. “I don’t understand the relationship you had with my son. He could have been your best friend. Put God in your heart and ask for his forgiveness.”
Reyes went to trial last month, but after the prosecution presented its evidence in the case, the defendant pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He had been charged with murder in the death of Evan Isaac Rosas, 22,
Gainesville Police found the victim with multiple stab wounds at the Preserve At Tumbling Creek on Jan. 17, 2016.
Several dozen family members and friends of both the victim and defendant packed the courtroom of Hall County Superior Judge Bonnie Oliver. Those speaking on behalf of the victim asked the judge for the maximum sentence allowed by law, while those speaking on behalf of the defendant made a plea for leniency. The hearing started shortly after 3 p.m. and extended more than an hour.
After hearing all sides, Oliver called it a “tragic case” for everyone involved.
“Regardless of whether you’re here in support of Evan Rosas or in support of Eric Reyes, two young men with bright futures ahead of them, prior to the event of the evening in question, (it) is a reminder I think to all of us how fragile life is.”
For those who asked for the court’s forgiveness, Oliver reminded them that forgiveness is not the court’s responsibility.
“My responsibility is to do justice with mercy,” the judge said. “Only the family of the victim can give you forgiveness, and you’ve been blessed with that from Mr. Rosas’ mother.”
Oliver sentenced Reyes to 20 years in prison, with 15 years to serve, on the manslaughter plea. The judge also gave Reyes five years consecutive probation for possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.
“That is mercy in the court’s eye...,” Oliver said. “I think anything less than a 20-year sentence, when we have a loss of life, would be insincere.”
Defense attorney Chris Van Rossem had reminded Oliver that Reyes was only 25 at the time of the deadly incident and that he had no prior criminal record. Van Rossem said Reyes’ mother came to Gainesville from El Salvador “looking for her American dream.” Instead, she died after a long battle with breast cancer.
“The impact of losing his mom at such an early stage is something he continues to struggle with,” Van Rossem said.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance asked Oliver for a 20-year sentence. Vance said that during his interrogation by investigators Reyes “did not look concerned.” The prosecutor said Reyes was the aggressor who initiated the assault.
“Eric is the first to lay hands,” Vance said. “He made threats an hour before the murder.”