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Teen's killer, also a teen, gets nine years to life

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Emotions were high in Erie County Court as teenager Jean Sanchez was sentenced for the murder last year of a 13-year-old Iraqi immigrant who fled the violence of his homeland, only to have it find him in America just 18 months later.

Sanchez will serve an indeterminate sentence of nine years to life, the sentence given to him by Judge Sheila DiTullio because the defendant was 13 years old at the time of the May 2014 crime. Sanchez pled guilty to second degree murder back in October.

"There's nothing good that could be said about it," said defense attorney Paul Dell outside the courtroom. "Everybody knew what was going to happen today. 

"Just to be reminded of the incident was very sad for both families."

Sanchez's family members wept outside the courtroom following the sentencing. Al-Shammari's family, especially his mother, wept in court as prosecuting attorney Thomas Finnerty recalled the grim details of how Sanchez admittedly stole Al-Shammari's new cell phone - a gift he had just received for doing well in school - then later luring the fellow 13-year-old to a vacant lot under the pretense of recovering that phone.

He instead used a shoelace, and then a string from a hooded sweatshirt, to strangle Al-Shammari. He also sexually abused the victim. 

"The defendant's actions, the defendant's history of violence, deserve not just today's maximum sentence but tomorrow's long confinement," Finnerty said, noting the defendant's already lengthy record of violent acts. 

Judge Sheila DiTullio added her own opinion upon sentencing that Sanchez remain in jail a very long time, saying that after showing no mercy, she's having a hard time showing any toward him.

Finnerty also spoke of how Al-Shammari's family fled to the United States from war-torn Iraq, a place where the family had come under threat of harm by insurgents, who learned that his uncle was assisting the U.S. Army with repairing broken down vehicles. He told the courtroom that young Ameer had no childhood in his homeland and looked forward to being able to play outside in America.

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Ameer Al-Shammari was murdered in May 2014 in Buffalo's Black Rock section.

Sanchez showed little emotion in the courtroom, saying "I'm sorry" when asked for a comment. His attorney suggested Sanchez has shown remorse but does not show emotion well.

"I've spent time in the detention center where he's cried," Dell said. "He did start to well up today but he's emotionally spent. I think he's been at that point where there's just nothing to be shown."

Finnerty closed his comments in court by saying, on behalf of the family, that in spite of their tragic loss they still love America and its justice system, adding that they feel treated better here than they would have back in their native land.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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