MARK ARIAS

MARK ARIAS (right), appeared in court Thursday for sentencing on two counts of first-degree assault. He was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections.

MADISON — A Norfolk man was sentenced to prison Thursday following riveting testimony from the parents of two teenagers injured in a shooting in April.

Judge James Kube sentenced 21-year-old Mark Arias to 20 to 30 years in prison for two counts of first-degree assault stemming from a double shooting earlier this year in Norfolk. Kube sentenced Arias to 10 to 15 years for each charge, which were ordered to be served consecutively.

Arias previously admitted to shooting two minors on April 9 with a .22-caliber, semi-automatic handgun outside a residence in the 100 block of Phillip Avenue. One minor had been shot in the neck, the other in the leg. Both were transported to Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk with nonlife-threatening injuries.

The Norfolk man pleaded guilty to the two assault charges in September and, in exchange, had two firearms charges dismissed. The first-degree assault charges, Class 2 felonies, carry penalties of 1 to 50 years’ imprisonment.

Before Arias was sentenced, both the father and mother of the two victims, who are brothers, gave emotional testimony.

The father of the teens, then ages 17 and 14, said he had taken his two sons to see a movie on the night of the shooting. He noticed one of his boys was on his phone throughout the movie, sending a signal that something was off.

The boys’ father said the kids’ interest in anything but the movie gave him a “sick sense.” Later that night, he dropped his sons off at their mother’s residence and went home. The next thing he remembered, he said, was officers pounding on his door telling him his sons had been shot.

“I asked the (officer) to tell me one more time. I wanted to hear him clearly because I was half asleep,” the boys’ father said. “It knocked the wind out of me that somebody would shoot children — my two babies.”

The boys’ father said he had cried all the way to the emergency room, where he found his eldest son with a hole in his neck and blood all over him. Doctors came in and told the man that his sons’ injuries weren’t life-threatening.

But, the man said, doctors told him that the bullet that lodged into his eldest son’s neck was irremovable, due to its close proximity to vital organs, nerves and bones. Attempting to surgically remove the bullet would be too dangerous, doctors said, and it would have to remain in the boy’s neck for the rest of his life.

“He has trouble moving his neck and his arm; he has permanent damage,” the father said. “He calls me almost every day to tell me his neck is hurting.”

The boys’ father also testified that his sons have suffered spiritually and emotionally from the shooting, mentioning that one of his sons has missed 25 days of school since the shooting and becomes frightened at the sound of fireworks.

He told Arias, who also is a father, that he needs to set his life straight so that he can be an example someday for his child. But before Arias could do that, the father said, Arias would have to learn how to survive in the “house of iron.”

“I asked God that one day he’ll forgive you. As a dad, I’m not ready to forgive you yet,” he told Arias. “I almost had to go open two body bags and have a double burial. I don’t know if I could’ve handled that.”

The victim’s mother detailed Arias’ friendship with her sons, testifying that Arias had been “great friends” with her sons and that he would often come to her house to hang out and have dinner.

She said Arias and her sons had a months-long hiatus in their friendship but that Arias began “coming back around” at one point. The altercation transpired that night because Arias and others had jumped a friend of her sons’ earlier that day, she said.

“They’re being called snitches. I was the one that gave your name in the 911 call,” she told Arias. “I hope that you get some prison time and, if you do, I hope you take advantage of the programs they have to offer.”

Matthew Kiernan, deputy Madison County attorney, told the judge that nobody would ever know for sure what exactly transpired the night of the shooting, but that it boiled down to Arias bringing a gun to a fistfight — one that he helped instigate.

Kiernan said a group of at least six males had converged near the Phillip Avenue residence for the fight, which Kiernan said he believes was a result of the purported assault earlier that day.

Once Arias and a group of others showed up at the apartment, Kiernan said, Arias pulled a gun and started shooting. Anywhere from two to six shots were fired, he said, with two of them striking the teenage brothers.

Arias had argued that he didn’t know how to operate a gun and that firing at the victims was accidental. Kiernan didn’t buy Arias’ explanation.

“If it happened once, I might think that’s in the realm of possibility,” he said. “But multiple shots were fired, and that doesn’t happen by accident. Two bullets hit their intended targets, and that further strains credibility that this was an accidental firing.”

Arias said in court Thursday that the gun wasn’t his, that he found it inside a backpack along the Cowboy Trail in March. Kiernan disputed that claim, too, telling the judge that a witness mentioned he had seen Arias brandishing a gun on multiple occasions.

The deputy county attorney told Kube that Arias had already gotten a “substantial break” by way of a plea deal that dismissed the two firearms charges. A consecutive sentence for each assault charge would be suitable, Kiernan said, because there were two victims.

“I believe he is a clear and present danger to society; he has demonstrated that,” Kiernan said. “Had it been a little better shot, these kids would be dead. The victims and their families have gone through trauma and will be for the rest of their lives.”

Brad Montag, Arias’ attorney, said Arias had struggled with the incident and that he'd been truthful and remorseful since the onset of the case. Taking a gun to a fistfight was Arias’ first mistake, he said.

“In today’s society, we see movies and TV shows and on the news, that everybody’s acting tough with a gun,” the defense attorney said. “When you’re young, you think you’re bulletproof and don’t realize what can happen with this type of thing. It was a huge mistake.”

Montag told the judge that Arias wants to be involved in his daughter’s life and that it would be beneficial for Arias to have a prison sentence structured to help him address his mental health needs. He asked for Arias’ sentence to be concurrent and within the range of 5 to 8 years.

“We want Mark to be able to return to society and be a productive member of the community,” he said.

Arias, when asked if he’d like to speak, turned toward the victims’ family members and expressed remorse.

“I just want to say I apologize to the people I’ve impacted, and I want to look at you all and tell you all from the bottom of my heart that I’m sorry,” Arias said. “You may never forgive me, but I can accept that. … I hate to see you all like this. You all took care of me and let me stay there.”

The 21-year-old said he wants to change for not just himself, but also everyone around him.

Kube, before sentencing Arias, told Arias that he doesn’t believe that Arias took the gun with him to the victims’ residence to only scare them.

“It would have been very easy for you to show them the gun,” the judge said. “You could have scared them pretty easily; you could have shot the firearm in the air.”

Arias had been housed at the Madison County Jail since his arrest shortly after the April 9 shooting. He must serve 10 years of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole, and he must serve 15 years before his mandatory release. He was given credit for 194 days served.

“I think we’re all very thankful nobody got hurt worse. There were serious injuries, and that will be something those young men will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Kube said. “It will affect them forever. … I’m sure this has been a wake-up call for you. Unfortunately, it’s come at a pretty severe cost.”

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