OGDEN — He planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps, but two months after his 18th birthday, Thomas Lovato "made an awful mistake" that took another man's life and changed the course of his own, according to his sister.
Second District Judge Noel Hyde on Tuesday ordered Lovato to serve up to life in prison for the January 2017 shooting death of 32-year-old Ernesto Pepe Martinez, of Ogden.
In a letter to the court, Hailee Lovato said her brother was a dedicated student who liked to go camping and volunteer at animal shelters. She and more than a dozen others wrote to the judge to urge leniency for Lovato, who goes by "TJ," ahead of the hearing.
But Martinez's mother disagreed.
"It is so wrong," Josie Martinez wrote in a letter to the judge, that Lovato was permitted to plead to a lesser crime over the summer.
"Thomas deserves murder," she wrote, "not manslaughter." The mother said she sometimes cries on and off for an entire day because she misses her son so much. She hadn't understood that her family could have voiced their opposition to the plea deal he received in August, she wrote.
Lovato shot and killed Martinez on a Sunday in the parking lot of SNS Quick Stop, 110 Patterson St. in January 2017. He fired several rounds into Martinez's car, striking Martinez and narrowly missing two others in the car, investigators said at the time.
As part of the bargain with prosecutors, Lovato pleaded guilty to a reduced count of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and attempted murder, a first-degree felony.
Weber County prosecutor Dee Smith said prosecutors negotiated the deal with Lovato's attorneys after coming to believe a jury may find he shot Martinez in self-defense, as Lovato originally told investigators. Some witnesses didn't cooperate, Smith said, and other details came to light that could have hurt the case.
"We felt like it served the interest of justice," Smith said of the plea agreement.
Lovato was originally charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder, first-degree felonies; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; and reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
On Tuesday, Hyde sentenced him to at least three years and up to life for the attempted murder conviction, and one year and up to 15 years for manslaughter. Hyde allowed the sentences to run side-by-side and ordered Lovato to pay restitution for the damage to the car and for Martinez's funeral expenses.
More than a dozen letters submitted to the court by his friends and family members say Lovato is a talented boxer who fell in with the wrong crowd, but they said he maintains their support.