The brutal nature of Christopher Garza’s 1990 murder of Millard teenager Christina O’Day outweighed his youth at the time and his prison record since then.
Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk ruled Friday that Garza, 42, must spend at least another 22 years in prison for his role in killing O’Day.
Polk resentenced Garza to 90 years in prison for the first-degree murder. Polk added 6 years and 8 months to 20 years for Garza’s use of a knife in the killing.
That means Garza, who has been in prison for nearly 26 years, could be eligible for parole in 2038 and would have to be released in 2045 under Nebraska’s good-time law.
Garza had to be resentenced because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against mandatory life sentences for those who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.
Polk issued the sentence after an emotional hearing in a courtroom filled with friends and family of O’Day and Garza.
The hearing included a plea from the now-grown Beth Ann Tuerff, then Beth Ann Bushon, whom O’Day was baby-sitting the night of the murder. Then 8, Tuerff was in her own room when Garza and his friend Wayne Brewer raped, beat and killed her baby sitter in another bedroom.
Brewer also was convicted of first-degree murder. He is serving a life sentence in prison. Brewer is ineligible for re-sentencing because he was 18 at the time.
Tuerff, fighting back tears, read a statement in court. Sheila O’Day, Christina O’Day’s mother, stood beside Tuerff.
Tuerff said that 26 years later, the crime still haunts her like it was yesterday. She said Christina O’Day’s family and she still suffer pain and anguish.
Tuerff said the resentencing has brought back her nightmares, fear and depression, and guilt.
She urged Polk not to let Garza ever go free. “I couldn’t save Christina that night,” Tuerff said. “But I can do everything in my power to keep Mr. Garza where he belongs today.”
Garza turned red and hung his head as she spoke.
Deputy Douglas County Attorney Katie Benson detailed the crime, focusing on the deliberate actions that Garza took before, during and after it.
She and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine urged Polk to sentence Garza on the high end of the range set by the Nebraska Legislature, which is 40 years to life.
Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley asked Polk to focus on the science behind the Supreme Court ruling — that adolescent’s brains and decision-making are not fully formed — and on Garza’s behavior since then.
Riley said Garza had admitted his responsibility for the crime, had a good prison record and is unlikely to commit further violence.
He asked Polk to make Garza eligible for release “if not now, then in the very near future.”
Polk acknowledged Garza’s “changed ways” in prison and had considered the mitigating factors in the sentencing.
Addressing Garza, Polk said, “This is not a role for the court to take revenge against you on behalf of the victim.”
But the judge went on to say, “At the same time, the court is having to balance the nature of the offense and what was done to that young lady.”
Afterward, Tuerff said O’Day’s family and she were relieved that the sentencing was over and grateful for the judge’s decision.
“Of course, we were hoping that he would be re-sentenced to life, knowing that the chances of that were slim, though,” Tuerff said. “I would say this is the next best scenario. ... Chris (O’Day) doesn’t get a second chance at life, to re-establish her life. I won’t get back the years of my life that I lost. But at least this is some kind of closure.”