SANTA FE, N.M. — A Santa Fe man who shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend and her father in 2009 was sentenced to 32 years in prison — the maximum allowable under a plea bargain, but still a better deal than when he was first convicted of the crimes in 2010.
Marino Leyba Jr., 27, was originally sentenced to 63 years after being found guilty of first-degree murder in the killings of 17-year-old Sarah Lovato and 50-year-old Bennie Ray Lovato in 2010. But the state Supreme Court overturned the verdict a year later, saying a key piece of the state’s evidence was inadmissible hearsay.
District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer accepted a plea agreement for second-degree murder in November because the Lovato family chose not to go through another trial and take the risk that Leyba would be acquitted.
On Wednesday, Leyba was sentenced to 15 years plus one additional year for firearm enhancement for each murder.
“This has been difficult for both families,” Marlowe Sommer said just before announcing the sentence. “The reason it’s been difficult is because it was the most supreme act of senseless violence anyone in the courtroom has experienced.”
Marlowe Sommer said the victims never had a chance when Leyba burst into their apartment on May 22, 2009, and emptied the service weapon he used in his job as a security guard for his father’s company. The judge found no mitigating factors and ruled the murders violent offenses, meaning Leyba will serve no less than 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Leyba showed little emotion during the nearly two-hour hearing until he was given the opportunity to speak. His voice trembled at times while he spoke to the judge and turned to addressed the Lovato family.
“I want to tell the Lovato family and everyone affected, I apologize,” he said. “I hope one day you can forgive me.”
But Leyba spent most of his time trying to explain his actions, adding that he’s been trying to process what happened every since the day of the killings.
“I did fear for my life, and every day I suffer,” he said. “In the situation at the time, I did panic. I was fearful … I didn’t go there to kill anyone.”
During the trial, Leyba’s attorneys argued that Leyba thought that both Bennie and Sarah Lovato had weapons when he shot them.
“I did act in self defense, and that’s the truth,” he said. “God knows the truth.”
Nick Lovato, Sarah’s brother and Bennie’s son, said he can never forgive Leyba for what he did, but he and the rest of the family were happy Leyba got the maximum.
“It was the best we could get,” he said. “Now, Bennie Lovato, Sarah Lovato and Isaac can rest in peace.”
Isaac was the name given to Sarah’s unborn son. She was 8½ months pregnant at the time of the murders.