LAWRENCE — The man who sprayed a nightclub with gunfire from a semi-automatic weapon cried at times and held a Kleenex to his eyes as he faced up to the fact he will be spending the rest of his life in prison for the murders of two people.
Johan Saint Clair of Lawrence was not the only one who shed tears.
Family and friends of one of the victims told how her two children will grow up without their mother.
A week into his trial, Saint Clair of Lawrence, pleaded guilty yesterday to opening fire in the packed La Guira nightclub, killing two people and wounding two others.
The plea was somewhat unexpected. The day before, Saint Clair’s defense attorney Russell Sobelman said his client wanted to testify in his own defense that he was not the real shooter.
But instead, Saint Clair, 32, was sentenced yesterday to life in state prison and other prison terms after he pleaded guilty to seven felony counts leveled against him after the Sept. 6, 2010 shootings at the now-closed nightclub at 205 Broadway.
“Obviously, you ended the lives of two people without any justification whatsoever ... lives were destroyed because of your actions,” Judge Richard Welch told Saint Clair in Lawrence Superior Court. Welch said he fully supported the guilty plea because the trial evidence against Saint Clair was “absolutely overwhelming.”
“I’ve never seen a more overwhelming case and I’ve been on the bench close to 18 years,” Welch said.
The father of three admitted to bringing a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun into the club at midnight and firing at least six shots, possibly more. Killed were Juan Esteban Suazo-Soto, 34, of Hyde Park, and Amarilis Roldan, 24, of Dorchester. La Guira waitress Valerie Verdejo and patron Jose Luis Medrano Baez, were wounded.
The deliberate and premeditated shooting was retribution against “joloperos,” home invading and torturing thieves who previously robbed Saint Clair of a large amount of cocaine. Suazo-Soto was allegedly connected to criminal activity while Roldan was an innocent bystander, caught in the crossfire that night as she stood with others at the back of the club.
Roldan’s family members wept and sobbed as Saint Clair was sentenced. A mother of two young children, Roldan was quiet and shy and reluctantly went to La Guira that night with her sister, cousin and a friend. As shots blasted through the club, Amarilis protected her sister, telling her to get down on the floor while she herself was fatally wounded.
Family members wore buttons yesterday with Amarilis’ picture on them.
In an emotional statement to Welch yesterday, Aida Roldan, Amarilis’ mother, told Saint Clair he ended her daughter’s life but also the lives of the young son and daughter she left behind. Other family members wept and sobbed as she spoke.
“He will spend his life in prison but I will never get my daughter back,” she said. “She was a great mother and a good daughter. Every time I go to the cemetery, to bring my daughter flowers, her children want to stay with her.”
Saint Clair was indicted on two counts of first degree murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, in an agreement reached with the prosecution, and approved by Welch, Saint Clair was allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder, which carries a penalty of life in prison but with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of armed assault with intent to murder and sentenced to 19 to 20 years in state prison and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, for which Welch imposed a 9 to 10 year prison sentence. He was additionally convicted of illegally carrying a large capacity weapon and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in state prison.
Saint Clair was held at Middleton Jail since his immediate arrest after the shooting. Under the terms of the agreement, Saint Clair was given credit for 771 days already served. In court yesterday, he cried at times and held a Kleenex, occasionally wiping his eyes and face.
“You admit you did these things,” Welch asked him, as he prepared to plead guilty.
“Si,” Saint Clair said. A Spanish interpreter quickly translated the word, “Yes.”
Lead prosecutor James Gubitose said while Saint Clair deserved life imprisonment, there was “really no number of years that could bring back” the murder victims or erase the pain of those wounded. Gubitose prosecuted the case, aided by fellow assistant district attorney Jessica Strasnick.
Saint Clair, who dropped out of school in 10th grade, was given an opportunity to address the court. He declined. Sobelman described the death’s of Suazo-Soto and Roldan as “needless killings.” Innocent people were also hurt, he added.
But Sobelman stressed Saint Clair’s family was also suffering a loss. His sister traveled daily from Rhode Island, taking trains and cabs, to attend the trial in Lawrence. Then, she would go to work as a cleaner at night. Saint Clair’s girlfriend, cousin and uncle were also present in the courtroom gallery during the past week.
“He wishes he could move the hands of the clock back in time,” Sobelman said.
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