A California fugitive is facing 15 years in prison — nearly double the sentence recommended by prosecutors — for assaulting a Billings public defense attorney who testified Thursday that he may be permanently injured.
During a sentencing hearing Thursday, District Judge Mary Jane McCalla Knisely told David Anthony Aguilar Jr., 33, the recommended sentence of eight years in prison wasn’t severe enough for the crime he committed against Assistant Public Defender Erik Moore.
In January, Aguilar appeared by video from the jail in Yellowstone County Justice Court after being arrested on a warrant from Kern County, Calif.
Moore was standing in the jail’s video arraignment room next to Aguilar, representing him at the hearing. Over the live video feed, Aguilar could be seen slamming his handcuffed fists into Moore’s head without warning.
Aguilar later pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon, and his plea agreement called for an eight-year prison sentence and a designation as a persistent felony offender.
Removing his sunglasses — which he usually wears in court since the attack to protect his light-sensitive eyes — Moore took to the witness stand Thursday. He said he has post-concussive syndrome and may have permanent injuries to his eyes and brain.
“You gonna even look?” Moore said to Aguilar, who was sitting in shackles with his tattooed head bowed.
Aguilar looked up, and Moore proceeded to berate him, calling him a “pissant” and a sick person with “white power” affiliations.
“I sure wish you would have come at me straight on, because you wouldn’t be sitting there with your arms the way they are now, I guarantee you,” Moore said.
Moore said his injuries forced him to take all of his sick leave for the year and vacation time that he had planned to spend with his family. He asked that Aguilar be required to repay him for that time.
“I guarantee you, people like you don’t change,” Moore concluded. “And people like you belong behind bars.”
“Mr. Aguilar, do you have anything to say on your own behalf?” Judge Knisely asked when Moore left the witness stand.
“Um, you’re right to have that anger towards me,” Aguilar said, looking at Moore. “There’s no excuse for my actions, and I ain’t making none.”
He apologized to Moore and said he becomes a violent person when he is high or coming down off drugs.
As Aguilar spoke, a woman seated in the courtroom gallery began crying.
“I hope one day you can forgive me because I’m very sorry for what I did to you and your family. That’s all I have to say, your honor,” Aguilar said, the chains binding his handcuffs to his waist jingling as he turned from Moore to face the judge.
The courtroom was quiet for about 15 seconds, the only sounds coming from the humming fans overhead.
“Mr. Aguilar, you’re right. There is no excuse for what you did,” the judge finally said, adding that at the time of the attack Moore was only doing his job, assisting people like Aguilar.
“The life-changing injuries that you inflicted on him are — they’re horrible,” Knisely said. “So, as a result, the court is going to impose 15 years in the Montana State Prison. When you get out, you can pay (Moore) $1,728, and you are a persistent felony offender. Thank you.”
Shaking his head, Aguilar took a seat and waited for a detention officer to take him back to jail.