A young man who pleaded no contest in the murder of a Long Beach resident whose body was found nearly a decade ago inside an SUV that had been set on fire was sentenced today to 25 years to life in state prison.
Superior Court Judge Laura Laesecke told Adrian Berumen—who was 17 at the time and will turn 27 next week—that she is glad he “took responsibility” but doesn’t believe he’s taken “full responsibility” for the April 2013 killing of Christopher Waters.
“I think you knew exactly what you were doing,” the judge told the Long Beach man and former Poly High School student. “It was calculated. It was premeditated.”
Berumen pleaded no contest last December to first-degree murder in the midst of jury selection in the Long Beach courtroom.
Defense attorney Sean Kennedy, who leads the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School, told reporters outside court last year that Berumen wanted to spare the victim’s family “the pain of going through a trial.”
Waters’ family had objected to an earlier plea deal where Berumen would’ve been allowed to plead guilty to the lesser count of second-degree murder. When they voiced their complaints, Laesecke blocked the deal, despite Berumen’s attorneys arguing his extensive work with mentally ill inmates proved he was rehabilitated and he deserved to have his case sent back to juvenile court.
Berumen was charged along with co-defendant Jose Angel Martinez, who was convicted in October 2017 of first-degree murder and arson in the death of Waters, whose body was found in the flaming SUV at 30100 Miraleste Drive in Rancho Palos Verdes on April 23, 2013. His feet had been bound and a cord was wrapped around his neck.
Martinez, now 27 and a former Compton resident, was sentenced to 28 years to life in state prison.
At a hearing last December just days after his plea, Berumen apologized to the victim’s family.
“I know that my words can’t change things, but I am sorry for all the pain that I caused you,” he told Waters’ family.
In a statement just before Berumen was sentenced, the victim’s sister, Jennifer, said, “It has been just over nine years since my brother, Chris Waters, was taken from us. This has been an incredulous journey to get to today.”
She said she appreciated that Berumen decided to plead guilty to first-degree murder and said she considered that to be him “taking accountability for your actions.” Jennifer said she also wanted to acknowledge the work he had done with mentally ill inmates while behind bars, saying that it “brings me some hope that some good can come out of this horrendous event.”
Chris Waters’ mother, Cora Klahn, told the defendant that he had made a “major mistake,” and that she hoped to hear from him one day, while the defendant’s stepbrother, Gene Lesman, said the defendant “should never ever see the light of freedom.”
Deputy District Attorney Brian Kang told jurors in Martinez’s trial that Berumen and Martinez ambushed Waters. The prosecutor alleged Berumen told the victim to bring rent and deposit money for an apartment that did not exist, and that the two called a cab, went to a mall in Lakewood and began spending the victim’s money after his vehicle was set ablaze.
Berumen, who was just under two months shy of his 18th birthday at the time of the killing, was ordered to stand trial as an adult following a transfer hearing in juvenile court.
Berumen’s defense team has appealed that ruling and contends that he received ineffective assistance from his prior lawyer during that proceeding, with the judge saying last December that she reviewed the transcripts and found no basis for that claim.
“We believe he should be prosecuted in juvenile court,” Berumen’s attorney said last December of his client, whom he said has done “incredible work” with mentally ill inmates while he’s been in jail.
The judge rejected the defense’s request to delay the sentencing, saying it was time for the case to move forward.
The judge told Berumen, “You don’t belong in juvenile court.”
She noted that the defendant knew the victim and cited the “sheer callousness.”
“To me, you have a lot more work to do to show that you are rehabilitated,” the judge told Berumen.