Jose Canales-Yanez sat in Montgomery County Circuit Court for most of Tuesday afternoon knowing it would probably be one of the few times he’d not be behind bars for the rest of his life. He wore a green state-issued jump-suit, with a white cross hanging around his neck. He smiled at someone in the courtroom when he first entered. He was relaxed and content.
His hair was shorter than in the mugshot Montgomery County Police distributed after his arrest. He was not handcuffed as he sat in the courtroom, so he could make the sign of the cross when Judge Circuit Court Judge David Boynton announced that he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole for the murder of Shadi Najjar, and again for the murder of Artem Ziberov.
Judge Boynton, who in January, found Canales-Yanez guilty of all eight counts of the indictment handed out the harshest possible sentence on every count.
Boynton found Canales-Yanez, 26, of Gaithersburg guilty on all eight counts held in the indictment, including the top two counts of Murder in the First Degree for the killing of Northwest High School seniors Shadi Najjar and Artem Ziberov as they sat in Najjar’s blue Honda Civic on Monday, June 5, 2017 on Gallery Court in Montgomery Village.
The victims Najjar and Ziberov were to join their classmates for graduation ceremonies the morning after their murders. Judge Boyton found that Canales-Yanez and three other men who are charged in this killing — but will be tried separately — conspired to kill Najjar and Ziberov by luring them with the intention of purchasing a ticket to the next morning’s graduation.
The three other men charged with these murders are; Edgar Garcia-Gaona, 24, of the 100 block of Lamont Lane in Gaithersburg; Roger Garcia, 19, of the 19500 block of Frederick Road in Germantown; and Rony Alexander Galicia, 25, of the 19500 block of Frederick Road in Germantown. Their trial is scheduled before Judge Boynton in October.
Tuesday’s court hearing started with a lengthy discussion about a defense Motion for a Retrial based on the defense’s contention that the prosecution did not explicitly point out that a witness against Canales-Yanez changed her story after the police spoke with the witness’ parents. Defense attorney Robert Biddle pointed out that if Canales-Yanez’s attorney during the trial, Kathleen A. Dolan, had been aware of the timing of the interview with the witness’ parents, it would have “materially altered” her decision to have a bench trial, where guilt or innocence was decided by a judge, rather than a jury trial.
Judge Boynton allowed the defense’s argument to play out for almost an hour, giving it plenty of air in the courtroom. He asked questions and challenged the defense’s assertions before ultimately ruling to deny the Motion for a Retrial and moving on the matter of sentencing
After a short recess, Canales-Yanez’s attorney Kathleen Dolan stood to ask for leniency in sentencing. She said that her 26-year-old client was a father with a two-year-old whom he has not seen since he was arrested. “He considers himself to be a peaceful man.” She stated that he has no history of violence prior to this incident. “He has been married for two years, and his daughter is his world,” said Dolan. “He is begging this court for mercy while respectfully maintaining that he is innocent.”
Dolan said that in the State of Maryland which abolished the death penalty “Life without parole is the new death sentence.” She asked the court to not sentence her client to “Life Row.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Hall, who prosecuted the case painted a very different picture of Canales-Yanez. Hall said that Yanez has been planning and preparing for the June 2017 killing since the previous December, when Najjar had stolen drugs from and struck Canales’ girlfriend, Kara Yanez, with his car during an incident on December 14, 2016, on Crystal Rock Drive in Germantown.
Hall said that Canales-Yanez “became judge, jury, and executioner” when he decided not to cooperate with police after the December incident, and “operate outside the law.” Hall said that all four of the accused killers set the trap. “They set the meeting. They arranged for the transportation to the meeting in Montgomery Village. There was a tremendous amount of planning to make sure that all four men were armed for the meeting,” she said. “At any point, he could have decided to do things differently and changed his mind.”
Hall pointed out that when the van carrying the four killers entered Gallery Court where they arranged to meet Najjar and Ziberov, the van drove past the Najjar’s blue Honda and all could easily see that Najjar was not alone and that there was a second person in the Honda. “From that point on, they know there was more than one person in that car. They could have stopped and rethought their plan, but they didn’t.”
“This was not a drive-by shooting,” said Hall. “All four men exited the van, and an ambushed the unsuspecting boys sitting in that car.” Prosecutors say more than 40 rounds were fired into the car by the four killers. “Shadi Najjar died when Jose Canales-Yanez walked up to him and shot him in the face three times. Canales-Yanez fired 11 rounds at the car,” said Hall.
Hall continued, “When the shooting was over, and Canales-Yanez was sure that Shadi Najjar was dead, he reached into the car and stole the dead boy’s phone because he knew that it contained evidence that would incriminate him in this killing.”
“For these reasons, we ask that the court sentence Jose Canales-Yanez to the maximum penalty allowed under Maryland Law,” concluded Hall.
“I am in pain, too,” Canales-Yanez told the court on Tuesday. “I am a victim, too. I know I have my innocence.” He quoted a number of biblical passages, saying, “None of you know who I am as a person.” He added, “Unfortunately, I put my life in the hands of someone who was not prepared,” referring to his attorney.
He showed no remorse or contrition; he accepted no responsibility for the crimes for which has been convicted, the deaths he caused. “No parent should lose their child,” he said, “Will justice be served if you put me away, I am an innocent man. You are truly looking at an innocent man.”
In rendering his sentence upon Canales-Yanez, Judge Boynton said, “Two boys were gunned down for no good reason. This was not a crime of opportunity or rage, or passion, but a vendetta out for revenge… This was a planned event.”
“This was nothing less than a lure to catch them unaware. It was nothing less than an ambush,” said Judge Boynton. “Seven seconds to fire 30 or 40 shots. Clearly, this was a slaughter.”
“The defendant fired 11 shots,” continued Judge Boynton, “and got right up in the car to make sure that Shadi Najjar was dead.” He said that the plan, which was orchestrated by the defendant, was to kill Shadi and when a second person was found in the car the killers didn’t hesitate. “They didn’t say wait, another kid? We can’t do this? This is crazy? They continued and killed both boys. That part of this case displays the indifference to life. The defendant displayed no humanity in the van when he decided to proceed.”
Judge Boynton pointed out that he asked for a Pre-Sentence Investigation into Canales-Yanez’s childhood and background before passing sentence. He said that often violent offenders will have been abused as children, or suffer some horror in their lives prior to committing such crimes. “What I read, in this case, was that Mr. Canales-Yanez had a normal happy childhood. He had no health problems. He had no recent drug use,” said Judge Boynton. “The only conclusion is that I was dealing with a cold, uncaring, compassionless executioner.”
“The future of our community is darker and less promising without Shadi Najjar and Artem Ziberov,” said the judge, “and that calls for the most severe punishment available.” Judge Boynton sentenced Jose Canales-Yanez to Life in Prison Without the Possibility for Parole on the first count of the indictment, the killing of Shadi Najjar. On the second count, the murder of Artem Ziberov, he was sentenced to Life in Prison Without the Possibility for Parole to be served consecutively. On the third count – Conspiracy to Commit Murder, Canales-Yanez was sentenced to Life in Prison to be served concurrently. On the fourth and fifth counts, the Use of Firearm in Commission of a Felony, the judge sentenced Canales-Yanez to 20 years in prison for each, the maximum, to be served consecutively. Finally, on the Armed Robbery count, Judge Boynton sentenced him to 20 years in prison to be served concurrently. Canales-Yanez was sentenced to the maximum on each count.
Top: Jose Calales-Yanez, of Gaithersburg, has been found guilty in the murder of two Northwest High School students on the eve of their graduation.
Next: The victims: Shadi Najjar and Artem Ziberov.
Next: Police believe the murders were retaliation for a robbery in which Najjar allegedly stole drugs in December 2016. Germantown Pulse believes this crime took place on Crystal Rock Drive in Germantown. Photo by Germantown Pulse.
Next: Gallery Court in Montgomery Village the street where the teens were shot. Photo by Germantown Pulse.