At a sentencing hearing Friday for the man convicted of a deadly 2017 shooting outside and Orcutt bar, the judge called the killer a bully and said he needed to spend the next 54 years to life in state prison.
The sentencing comes after Jonathan Highley was convicted in November 2018 of first degree murder for the death of Tony San Juan, 43, who died from a gunshot wound to the head.
The shooting occurred outside Elmer’s bar early in the morning on March 4, 2017.
Before the sentencing hearing Friday, the defense attorney for Highley asked for a new trial, arguing that the jury should’ve been allowed to consider the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
But the judge sided with the prosecutor, who argued that Highley killed the victim with premeditation.
“It was a deliberate choice he made to go get a gun and kill someone with it,” Santa Barbara Superior Court Deputy District Attorney Anne Nudson said.
During the trial, Highley testified that he’d been drinking for hours before the shooting and said while he realized he had killed someone, he did not remember shooting San Juan.
Multiple witnesses testified that Highley was combative with other patrons at the bar that night, that he had been kicked out and that they remembered seeing him with a gun.
San Juan was married and a father of two children.
“Jonathan Highley will never fully grasp how he broke so many hearts,” the victim’s wife, Sara San Juan, testified. “I had to carry his ashes from the funeral home and explain to our children that’s what was left of their dad.”
The victim’s wife targeted Highley’s character, calling him a “coward” and a “pathetic excuse for a person.”
San Juan’s mother also spoke about the impact on her life, noting that she gave birth to her son when she was just 15 years old.
“We became a team,” Cheryl, San Juan’s grieving mother said. “He was my immediate blessing, he became my reason for living.”
Highley and his wife, Mayra Perez, were arrested hours after San Juan was killed.
Perez pleaded no contest to being an accessory to murder after the fact and aiding and abetting. She was sentenced last August to a year in jail with credit for time served.
Though Highley did not speak at the sentencing hearing, his defense attorney said Highley is remorseful, something Nudson disagreed on.
“Highley has never expressed any remorse,” Nudson argued.
The sentence the Santa Maria Superior Court judge handed down Friday was higher than the 30-years-to-life requested by the defense and 50 years-to-life requested by the prosecution.
Highley was also ordered to pay restitution to the state and the victim’s wife.
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