SALT LAKE CITY — Eugene Rowland was his family’s protector, reminding his sisters in group chats that he loved them and promising to shield them from harm.
Those instincts ultimately led to the 29-year-old Rowland’s death, they said through tears in a Salt Lake City courtroom Monday.
More than two years ago, Rowland confronted Jose Francisco Hernandez, a West Valley City man who they said sought a relationship Rowland thought inappropriate with an 18-year-old woman. Later that day, Hernandez stabbed him to death at a Shell gas station.
Hernandez originally faced a charge of murder. A jury found him guilty last year of a lesser offense of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, based on the mitigating factor of his extreme emotional distress at the time.
“It was a bad situation, but you made it an impossible and irreversible situation,” 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills told the 46-year-old Hernandez on Monday. He first shook his head, then nodded as the judge ordered him to at least one and up to 15 years in prison. She gave him credit for time he has already served in the Salt Lake County Jail.
“I feel he just got a slap on the wrist,” Rowland’s mother Martha Torres said outside the courtroom.
But Hernandez, who has been jailed for more than two years, had anticipated a penalty of only probation and no prison time. His attorney Rudy Bautista said the judge indicated she would allow his release under supervision when she ordered Hernandez undergo a risk last year.
Bautista said his client had not intended to kill anyone that day, Sept. 8, 2017, but felt his family was threatened after Rowland had burglarized his home. Bautista said outside the courtroom the mentions of the young woman were designed to deflect from allegations of criminal conduct against Rowland.
Inside the courtroom, a shackled Hernandez apologized to Rowland’s family.
“I never wanted to take anybody’s life,” he said. “There’s not one day I don’t think about it.”
Prosecutors alleged Hernandez had not been truthful at trial about his role in Rowland’s death.
“There may not have been a great deal of premeditation, but there was premeditation,” said Bradford Cooley, an assistant Salt Lake County district attorney. “The defendant intentionally caused Gene Rowland’s death.”
Prosecutors said that after his home was burglarized, Hernandez went looking for the people responsible. As two of Hernandez’s friends drove past a gas station, they identified the group he was looking for, then stopped back at his house before returning to the gas station, charging documents said.
The two other men stayed in the car as Hernandez ran up to Rowland and said, “I’ll kill you,” before stabbing him and chasing him as Rowland tried to run away. Hernandez then got into a friend’s vehicle and told him, “That guy won’t bother me again,” the charges state.
After the stabbing, Hernandez called a friend and told him “he may have killed the person who robbed him this morning,” according to court documents.