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ST. CROIX - Wilson Fuentes stood before V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks on Thursday morning and said he was sorry before he was sentenced to almost 10 years in prison for killing a man in April 2011.

Fuentes, 29, initially was charged with first-degree murder but accepted a plea deal on the lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter, third-degree assault and unauthorized possession of a firearm for shooting and killing 30-year-old Marco Rivera and wounding another man in Bethlehem Village.

During the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Yoland Brow Ross told the court that Fuentes had been failed by the criminal justice system as he had filed six police reports about incidents that involved Rivera harassing him.

She said Fuentes felt a real threat and had the gun for his protection.

"I am certainly not condoning his actions in this, but had the justice system not failed him, both men would have been going on with their lives today," she said.

Fuentes told the court that he wanted to say he is sorry for what he did but that he had tried to do everything he legally could to handle the situation.

He said he regrets the night of the shooting every day.

"I am sorry to him and to his family because I know how it feels to lose someone who you love, but I tried, I tried to avoid it," he said.

Ross asked the court to sentence Fuentes to 5 years on the manslaughter charge, five years consecutively on the assault charge and five years to run concurrently on the firearms charge.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Sedar asked the court to hand down a sentence of 8 years on the manslaughter charge, four years consecutively on the assault charge and five years on the gun charge. The sentence must cover rehabilitation, punishment and deterrence, and a clear message needs to be sent to the community that gun violence of any sort is not going to be tolerated, he said.

"I certainly believe that Mr. Fuentes can be rehabilitated, because I do not see the crime as one of vicious intent," Sedar said. "He was carrying around a gun that he bought on the street because his firearm license was rescinded, and if he did not have a gun, we would not be here."

Before imposing sentence, Willocks admonished Fuentes, saying that he was not concerned about sending a message but that his main focus is about justice for all parties.

"You say the criminal justice failed you, but I say, no, you failed yourself," the judge said. "You had options and you did not choose wisely."

Willocks said Fuentes took the law into his own hands and shot Rivera six times in the head, and that is a mentality that has the world in the bad state it is in.

He sentenced Fuentes to seven years in prison on the manslaughter conviction and gave him a two-year consecutive sentence on the assault conviction. On the firearm conviction, Willocks sentenced Fuentes to five years but suspended all but one year and fined him $5,000. Fuentes was given credit for the 244 days he had served in pre-trial detention before being released earlier this year.

According to court documents filed by V.I. Police Detective Kirk Fielleteau, police were dispatched to Bethlehem Village just after 9 p.m. April 27, 2011. When they arrived, officers found Rivera slumped in his vehicle with gunshots to his head.

Witnesses on the scene identified Fuentes as the shooter.

Police said Fuentes drove to Frederiksted and threw the gun off of the pier, and it was never recovered.

Fuentes later was apprehended at his home and told police that he fired shots into the truck because he saw Rivera reach for a gun.

Days later, a passenger who was with Fuentes at the time of the shooting told police that Rivera's truck drove up along side their truck and stopped.

The passenger said he saw Fuentes pull out the gun and fire then drive away.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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