Defense talks ahead of sentencing for man who shot Judge Kocurek


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The government is seeking a life sentence for Chimene Onyeri, the man convicted of trying to kill a Travis County judge outside her home in 2015.

Onyeri’s attorney, Victor Arana, is asking for a lesser sentence: 30 years to give Onyeri “some chance at life outside of a prison.” He is asking for the lighter sentence in the “spirit of compassion and forgiveness.”

“In the federal system, a life sentence is a life sentence,” Arana told KXAN. “There is no parole. If you get a life sentence, you will be there for the rest of your life.”

Onyeri admitted to shooting Kocurek outside of her Austin home on Nov. 6, 2015, but claimed he never intended to kill, or even injure anyone. He will be sentenced by a federal judge on Monday, which will also be his 31st birthday.

Arana expects sentencing could last more than a day as new witnesses or accusations could be presented.

“It’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances that led us to where we are today,” Arana said on Friday. “But the point I was trying to make [at trial] was, if certain things would have happened a different way, I think it’s likely that we wouldn’t be here.”

In April, after 17 days of testimony and four hours of deliberation, a 12-member jury unanimously found Onyeri guilty of conspiracy to violate the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization statute – a fraud and racketeering scheme that involved the attempted capital murder of Travis County District Judge Julie Kocurek.

He was also found guilty of 16 additional charges, including one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, seven counts of aggravated identity theft and six counts of witness tampering.

Before the shooting, Onyeri was wanted in Travis County for violating his probation in connection to a case in Kocurek’s courtroom. Prosecutors say he shot the judge because he thought she was going to revoke his probation and felt as if his racketeering enterprise was threatened.

Federal prosecutors were unavailable for an interview Friday, however, in a sentencing memorandum filed in court on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney John F. Bash called Onyeri “an audacious, unabashed criminal from whom law-abiding citizens need protection.”

Doctors previously testified Kocurek had 20 surgeries and had an index finger amputated after the attack. She also has “physical and emotional scars” she’ll carry with her for the rest of the life, according to Bash’s memo.

During the 17 days of testimony for Onyeri’s trial, Kocurek and her family relived the night of the shooting, listening to an emotional 911 call from the judge’s then-15-year-old son, Will, and viewing graphic photos detailing injuries to her face, neck and arms.

Kocurek was in a medically-induced coma for three days, was under anesthesia for 15 consecutive days and underwent 20 surgeries. She also had her left index finger amputated.

“I remember Will telling me ‘goodbye’ like he wasn’t going to see me again,” Kocurek said when she testified in April.

Onyeri later testified he never intended to kill her. Instead, he told jurors, he wanted to “scare them s—less, to scare the hell out of them.”

“Our heart goes out to the Kocureks,” Arana said. “What she’s been through, you know, is awful, and I don’t think anybody has said anything to the contrary. She testified at trial. I didn’t ask her any questions.”

Onyeri’s defense argues, though not justified or excusable, his actions were “understandable,” due to anger over time spent in jail for separate charges that were later dismissed or for which he was not convicted. 

Still, in his memo, Bash says Onyeri’s efforts in surveilling Kocurek and enlisting the help of others prior to the shooting shows he’s “a calculating killer, far from an impulsive act of anger or emotion.”

“After violently ambushing women and children as they arrived home from a family outing, Chimene Onyeri sent numerous texts to his friends in Houston,” Bash wrote in the memo. “In these texts he bragged about his actions; expressed great frustration that Judge Kocurek survived; and thanked the individuals who had helped him locate the judge.”

Five months have passed since Onyeri was convicted. Unlike his jury trial, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel will determine Onyeri’s sentence.

“I think it would be difficult for anyone,” Arana said of Onyeri waiting to be sentenced. “When you’re just kind of in limbo and you’re not sure what’s gonna happen to you, that’s got to be a difficult time.” 

Arana said he disagrees with some of the 17 counts Onyeri was found guilty of and expects he may file an appeal following the sentencing.

KXAN covered every day of Onyeri’s trial earlier this year and will be there for Monday’s sentencing. Be sure to follow for updates.

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