LAWRENCE — In August 2011, Dionicio Paulino was 18 years old, had no criminal record and by many accounts was considered a good kid. He told police he carried a handgun because his friends said if he was going to hang out in Lawrence, he needed to have a weapon on him.
Now a 20-year-old father, Paulino yesterday avoided a first degree murder trial — and the possibility of life in prison without parole — by pleading guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of Gilmar Tobar, 19, who he shot in the head and killed on Aug. 27, 2011, after an incident at Newbury and Haverhill streets.
Tobar, who had last lived in California, had come to Lawrence early that morning to pick up his girlfriend at an after-hours party.
Paulino, formerly of 57 Oakland Ave., Methuen, also pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Lawrence Superior Court yesterday.
With tearful members of both the Paulino and Tobar families present, Judge Mary Ames sentenced Paulino to 19 to 20 years in state prison on the manslaughter charge, followed by another 4 to 5 years in state prison on the firearms conviction. Ames further sentenced Paulino to 10 years straight probation following his release from prison and ordered him to obtain his high school diploma or equivalency while he’s behind bars.
“If he doesn’t get a college degree while incarcerated, I’m going to come after him,” Daniel Solomon, Paulino’s defense attorney, noted with sarcasm during yesterday’s plea hearing.
Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors said they could have proven Paulino shot Tobar in the head, ultimately leading to his death, after the Aug. 27, 2011 incident. Tobar died of a single gunshot wound to the right portion of his head. “There was no exit wound,” said Prosecutor Greg Friedholm yesterday.
In an interview with detectives, Paulino said “he did not intend to hit the kid,” Friedholm said in court yesterday.
Paulino told police he was carrying a gun that morning in Lawrence because his friends told him he should have a weapon on him.
Paulino also pointed the gun at Tobar’s brother Jonathan that morning.
Jonathan Tobar and their uncle were both in court yesterday but declined to make a public victim impact statement. Friedholm said he’d spoken with Tobar’s mother, who lives in California, regarding the plea arrangement. While “there is no number or sentence that will bring their brother or son back,” Friedholm said Tobar’s family members “were happy with this resolution and asked the court to impose it.”
Paulino declined to address the court, but under questioning by Ames said he had a 2-year-old daughter and had completed his junior year at Methuen High School. He said he was never employed, even part-time, during his life.
Before she formally sentenced him, Ames noted the tragedy of the situation for both families. “This is a sad day for everyone here in the courthouse,” she noted. Tobar had gone to pick up his girlfriend that morning and was “purely an innocent victim.”
“The senselessness of this tragedy is heartbreaking,” Ames said.
Solomon asked Ames to allow Paulino to remain at Middleton Jail for another week, before starting his state prison sentence. Ames denied his request, however, and Paulino was taken to state prison yesterday.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.