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UTAH STATE PRISON — Ricky Angilau, who was just 16 when he shot and killed a Kearns High School classmate, says he missed a lot of his childhood while incarcerated and has missed watching his siblings grow up.
But he believes he's ready to re-enter society and become a contributing member.
"I just want to move forward. I really do," he said Tuesday.
In January of 2009, Angilau, a documented gang member, and a friend were walking to class after lunch when they bumped into another student. Words were exchanged between Angilau's friend and the other student.
"They were about to fight in the school and I told them not to, let's go across the street. And that's what we did," Angilau said.
They walked to a cul-de-sac about two blocks west of the school. When they got there, one of the other boy's friends showed up and Angilau also became involved in the fight. Angilau took off his shirt and took a gun out of his pocket and placed it on the ground.
As the fight started, about 15 to 20 bystanders gathered to watch. But Angilau said he got scared as the onlookers got closer.
"I wasn't about to get jumped by these other individuals. So I grabbed the gun and told them I wasn't going to get jumped, I wasn't going to go down like that," he said.
Angilau fired once in the air to try to get the group to back up. He fired a second time to the side of the man he was fighting. When he attempted to fire a third shot, the gun jammed and a bullet fell to the ground. When he bent over to pick up the bullet, Angilau claimed the gun fired a third time, striking and killing 16-year-old Esteban Manuel Saidi. Saidi had been watching the fight but was not involved, nor was he a gang member.
Angilau was certified to stand trial as an adult. He was originally charged with murder, a first-degree felony. He eventually took a plea deal, pleading guilty to manslaughter, a third-degree felony, and was sentenced to up to five years at the Utah State Prison.
If Angilau, now 22, serves his full sentence, he would be released from prison in September of 2017. But Jesse Gallegos, the parole board member who conducted Tuesday's hearing, said he believes a supervised transition back into society would be more beneficial than simply releasing Angilau at the end of his sentence. He said he will recommend to the full five-member board that Angilau be paroled.
When I was out there I really didn't pick up books other than school. But being locked down in jail, spent a lot of time in max, so all I really did was read. Read a bunch of good biographies, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela. Just love reading. Grew a love for reading.
During a recording of Tuesday's 48-minute hearing, Gallegos spent a lot of time talking to Angilau and asking him questions about why he chose gangs over his family and why he felt the need to bring a gun to a fistfight.
"I was young, but I can't make no excuses," Angilau said.
Gallegos gave Angilau several warnings to avoid associating with gang members after he gets out of prison, even if it means dissociating himself from some family members.
"I mean no disrespect by the following comment, but God forbid if you have any other kids involved with a gang, it's not going to end well for Rick," Gallegos told Angilau's parents who attended the hearing.
Angilau noted that his younger brother had been "kicking it with the wrong people" and is also currently incarcerated.
"It's almost like you have to stay away from your own family," Gallegos said. "If extended family are gang members, they'll suck you back in."
"If that's what it takes, then I guess I got to do it," Angilau responded.
Gallegos also sternly warned Angilau to meet with a doctor who will provide mental health counseling almost immediately after his release and not go "clowning around with your buddies."
"I just want you to succeed and I don't mean to be a downer through this course of conversation, but I feel I have a responsibility to be brutally honest with you," Gallegos said.
The parole board member called it "tragic" that Angilau was certified as an adult. But now that he has been in prison once for killing someone, Gallegos said it is implausible to think he would get a similar plea deal if he took another life.
"The prior conviction is going to be your worst enemy," Gallegos told Angilau.
In going over his progress while in prison, Gallegos noted that counselors believe Angilau has become very introspective while serving his time.
"I learned to step back and actually analyze a situation before I make a decision and act upon my actions," Angilau said.
He also said he will "just walk away" from any stressful situation after he is released. "I know it's easy for me to say that. But I feel like I've matured. I feel like I can walk away from situations that would put me back here or back in jail."
Gallegos also noted for the board that Angilau has taken a strong liking to reading since being in prison.
"When I was out there I really didn't pick up books other than school. But being locked down in jail, spent a lot of time in max, so all I really did was read. Read a bunch of good biographies, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela," he said. "Just love reading. Grew a love for reading."
The full five-member Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will now vote on whether to release Angilau from prison.