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WEST JORDAN — A man accused of gunning down two teenage siblings in an argument over a shirt pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday.
Shackled and speaking quietly through an interpreter, Mario Cervantes-Angel, 29, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Jose Izazaga, 16, and his 15-year-old sister, Abril.
The charges are first-degree felonies each carrying potential sentences of 25 years to life in prison and could have been subject to a death penalty, which prosecutors are no longer pursuing.
During the brief hearing, Jose and Abril's siblings sat stone faced in the courtroom gallery. Their mother, overcome with emotion, waited for them in the hallway.
"The only relief we have is that my mom won't have to go through this pain," Jessica Ibarra, the teens' sister, said after the hearing. "The void is always going to be there, no matter what happens, what he says, what he does, what sentence they give him."
Jose and Abril were gunned down on July 6, 2016, when police say Cervantes-Angel went to a Midvale apartment complex to confront Jose about a T-shirt and other property. Police say he was accompanied by three people: an 18-year-old man who investigators said was a friend of Jose, his sister, and his mother, who Cervantes-Angel was dating.
Two verbal arguments broke out, one between the men and one between the women, and when Cervantes-Angel went to the women's fight and pulled Abril's hair before "slamming her against a brick wall," Jose pulled out a knife to defend his sister, the charges state.
In response, Cervantes-Angel pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot the two teenager multiple times, according to the charges.
Witnesses told police the teens hugged each other as they were gunned down. After they fell to the ground, Cervantes-Angel walked over and attempted to fire more shots at them, charges state.
Cervantes-Angel was arrested the next day at a home in West Valley City.
As a year has passed since her brother and her sister were killed, Ibarra said that daily life — and especially the month of July, when both teens had birthdays — is painfully empty.
"There will always be a huge void," Ibarra said. "Everyday life, holidays, birthdays, they're all hard. And the month of July, it used to be a month of the 4th of July, Pioneer Day, you know, holidays, camping, but now it's just all pain."
This month, Jose would have turned 18 and Abril would have turned 17, Ibarra noted.
"You just think of what could have been. Me and my sister were pretty close. Like, I can just picture what we would have done for her birthday," Ibarra said, describing the family's traditional "birthday beatdown," which is really an attack of hugs from everyone, and Abril's request that they keep hot Cheetos on hand for her.
Abril, her sister said, had high goals to attend college and loved finding different way to do her makeup. And while Jose was equally intelligent, Ibarra recalled that his easygoing attitude sometimes left her scolding him to finish his schoolwork.
Both teens had many close friends, Ibarra said, and she hopes those friends will hold on to the positive memories they have of Jose and Abril.
Sentencing for Cervantes-Angel is scheduled for Sept. 1.
In exchange for Cervantes-Angel's plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss two additional second-degree felony charges of obstructing justice and possession of a firearm by a restricted person.