ST. LOUIS — A man sentenced to life in federal prison in 2008 for murdering a 5-year-old Chicago-area boy in Franklin County in 1998 was re-sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. called Leobardo Barraza's crime "heinous and gruesome and horrible" before announcing the sentence.
Barraza, now 37, was 16 when he killed 5-year-old Jesus "Jessie" Ramirez on a remote road near Stanton in unincorporated Franklin County, prosecutors have said. Prosecutors said Barraza and another man promised to pay Jessie's mother, 26-year-old Maria E. Eloiza, $40,000 if she went on a drug run to Mexico.
Instead, the men took Eloiza and her son to Missouri and feigned car trouble to get her out of the vehicle. Jose Jesus Hernandez, known as "Chupacabras," raped Eloiza before stabbing and strangling her with her own bra strap, prosecutors said. Barraza then beat Jessie to death with a rock, they said.
Investigators speculated that the crime may have been motivated by Eloiza's rejection of romantic advances from Barraza, her co-worker.
Both men disappeared after the killing.
A man and his son out hunting found the bodies of Eloiza and Jessie 13 weeks later.
Hernandez, a former Mexican soldier, has been charged but not arrested. Barraza was found in Colorado in 2006, questioned by investigators and, confessed, prosecutors have said. Witnesses and Eloiza's diary also mentioned she was planning a trip with Barraza, and he admitted the crime to others, prosecutors said.
Barraza was convicted by a federal jury in St. Louis in 2008 of kidnapping resulting in death. He proclaimed his innocence at his trial and sentencing in 2008.
Barraza's life sentence was among cases around the country that were re-examined after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. Alabama, found that a sentence of life in prison without parole violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive sanctions.
At the hearing Wednesday, Eloiza's niece, Melba Eloiza, said, "There is not a strong enough punishment to bring back the lives we lost that day."
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Delworth asked for 50 years. Kevin Curran, a Barraza lawyer, argued for less, saying that Hernandez, who was older, bore most of the responsibility for the crime. Curran, citing the Miller case, said teens have difficulty extricating themselves from criminal situations.