Or­cutt man gets 54 years to life for killing of man

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Local - BY JANENE SCULLY Noozhawk.com

A Santa Maria Su­pe­rior Court judge on Fri­day agreed that the killing of a father of two in Old Town Or­cutt was a sense­less crime and said the cir­cum­stances led him to sen­tence Jonathan High­ley to 54 years to life in state prison, rather than a shorter time.

A jury con­victed High­ley, 37, of Or­cutt in Novem­ber of first-de­gree murder and as­sault with a firearm for the fa­tal shoot­ing of An­thony “Tony” San Juan of Santa Maria and for threat­en­ing a woman on March 4, 2017, in a park­ing lot be­hind Elmer’s bar.

The shoot­ing oc­curred af­ter an in­tox­i­cated High­ley was in­volved in mul­ti­ple fights in­side and out­side the bar, lead­ing him to en­ter his nearby home, ob­tain the gun and shoot San Juan, who was not in­volved in any of the al­ter­ca­tions with the de­fen­dant.

“He could have just gone home and stayed home, but he didn’t,” Judge Gus­tavo Lavayen said, adding later that he did not im­pose the sen­tence lightly. “The court is also cog­nizant of the fact that no only did he com­mit this sense­less act, but he also en­gaged in an ef­fort to cover it up, plac-

ing his whole fam­ily at risk.”

Be­fore hand­ing down the sen­tence, Lavayen heard emo­tional vic­tim im­pact state­ments from San Juan’s widow and mother about how the killing has af­fected their fam­ily.

“Jonathan High­ley will never fully grasp how he broke so many hearts, shook our ex­is­tence and how the lives of two beau­ti­ful, in­no­cent chil­dren will for­ever be filled with a void,” Sara San Juan said.

She said that in­stead of wak­ing up next to him each morn­ing, she in­stead rolls over af­ter a night­mare to find the space where he once slept. Rather than ready­ing for a date with her hus­band, she in­stead hides in the shower be­cause it’s the only place their chil­dren did not see her sob­bing.

Her hus­band was car­ing, fun lov­ing, con­sid­er­ate and hard­work­ing with an im­mense love for his fam­ily, friends and com­mu­nity.

She called High­ley “a sorry ex­cuse for a father, a pa­thetic ex­am­ple of a mem­ber of this great na­tion’s armed forces, a sorry ex­cuse for a hus­band, friend and fam­ily mem­ber.”

“I can see ex­actly what kind of per­son Jonathan High­ley is,” she said. “He is the type of per­son that no one shows up for. I haven’t seen any­one here to sup­port him, most likely be­cause he lives his life so self­ishly and in­sen­si­tively.”

While 600 peo­ple at­tended her hus­band’s cel­e­bra­tion of life, San Juan said a sec­ond char­ac­ter witness failed to show up to tes­tify on High­ley’s be­half dur­ing the trial.

Tony San Juan’s mother, Ch­eryl, spoke about giv­ing birth to him as a teen and work­ing to keep him healthy, happy and safe.

Par­ents should not have to bury their child, she added, re­call­ing the hor­ren­dous phone call from her grand­son say­ing two men were talk­ing to his mother, who was cry­ing out­side.

Since her son’s murder, their lives have been turned up­side down, Ch­eryl San Juan said.

“We miss him so much,” she said, adding that they for­give High­ley be­cause they don’t want to live with “anger in our hearts.”

High­ley did not speak dur­ing Fri­day’s hear­ing, but his at­tor­ney, Mark Owens, said his client was re­morse­ful and takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions.

The de­fense at­tor­ney spoke about his client’s past. High­ley served more than 12 years in the U.S. Navy and was hon­or­ably dis­charged. But the man clearly is an al­co­holic and has en­rolled in a treat­ment pro­gram while in­car­cer­ated in the county jail, the at­tor­ney said. Owens had ar­gued for a lesser sen­tence, which Deputy District At­tor­ney Anne Nud­son op­posed. Most homi­cides in­volve a sus­pect who has a di­rect or in­di­rect re­la­tion­ship, some­thing lack­ing in this case.

“In this in­stance, Mr. High­ley killed a man who was just at a bar that night,” she said. “It was a sense­less, thought­less ex­e­cu­tion of an in­no­cent per­son who was just go­ing about their reg­u­lar life. This type of murder … is a dev­as­tat­ing and hor­rific sense­less crime that clear- ly the fam­ily is still try­ing to make sense of, the com­mu­nity is try­ing to make sense of.”

The judge also or­dered High­ley to pay $8,472 to the Cal­i­fo­ria Vic­tims Com­pen­sa­tion Board and $ 74,542 to San Juan’s widow.

High­ley’s wife also was ar­rested in con­nec­tion with crime for be­ing an ac­ces­sory in help­ing him at­tempt to flee af­ter the shoot­ing. Mayra Or­tiz was sen­tenced to 365 days in state prison and later de­ported to Mex­ico.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at js­[email protected] Fol­low Noozhawk on Twit­ter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Con­nect with Noozhawk on Face­book.

JANENE SCULLY Noozhawk.com

Jonathan High­ley sits in Santa Maria Su­pe­rior Court dur­ing his sen­tenc­ing hear­ing af­ter be­ing con­victed of killing An­thony “Tony” San Juan in 2017.

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