EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 19, 2012

Editorial: La Guira victims finally receive justice

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Johan Saint Clair cried in a Lawrence court Wednesday as a judge sentenced him to life in prison.

If only Saint Clair had been so thoughtful about the consequences of his actions on Sept. 6, 2010, two people might be alive today.

Justice for Saint Clair’s victims was a long time coming. But the 32-year-old Lawrence man finally got the sentence he deserved.

There is no question about Saint Clair’s guilt in the shootings at the now-closed La Guira nightclub at 205 Broadway. Saint Clair opened fire in the crowded club with a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, killing 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.

A week into his trial, Saint Clair suddenly entered a guilty plea. Just the day before, his lawyer said he was prepared to testify that he was not the real shooter.

If the trial had proceeded and Saint Clair had been convicted of first-degree murder, he faced a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. After pleading guilty to second-degree murder and other charges against him, Saint Clair was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole after 15 years. He knew a good deal when he saw one.

“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 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.

Saint Clair was seeking revenge against “joloperos,” home invading 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.

The double murder cast a spotlight on the Lawrence club scene. That incident and others led to a crackdown on club violence that resulted in a number of nightspots losing their licenses.

The family of Amarilis Roldan addressed the court, speaking of their loss.

“He will spend his life in prison but I will never get my daughter back,” said Aida Roldan, the mother of Amarilis. “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 did not address the court. But his lawyer, Russell Sobelman, said he regretted the killings.

“He wishes he could move the hands of the clock back in time,” Sobelman said.

Saint Clair immersed himself in a life of crime. When some bad guys stole his illegal drugs, he went looking for revenge. Innocent people were killed and injured. Now, Saint Clair sheds tears because he must face the consequences of his actions.

He cannot move the hands of the clock back in time, nor can the family of his victims.

May Saint Clair find that, in prison, the hands of the clock move forward in time very slowly indeed.