TWIN FALLS • Tabithea Clifford glared at Caleb Hinton, the man she’s convinced killed her brother.
“You’ll never have a life again as long as I have the words to talk,” she said.
Clifford told Hinton at his sentencing Tuesday she’ll spend her life making sure people know he went to jail for homicide, not robbery.
Hinton, 32, of Twin Falls will spend 15 to 20 years in prison for beating and robbing Tigre Darin Martinez, who was 45 when he was found dead just hours after the May 26 robbery. But Hinton will never face homicide charges in connection to Martinez’s death, according to terms of a plea deal.
“You’re going down for robbery, you got lucky,” Clifford told Hinton. “But I hope you pay for it every single day in prison. And when you get out, I’ll make sure everyone knows that you went in there for a homicide. You didn’t go in there for robbery.”
Hinton pleaded guilty in Twin Falls County District Court to felony counts of robbery and intimidating a witness. District Judge Randy Stoker was bound to the 15 to 20 year sentencing term by the Rule 11 plea agreement signed by prosecutors and the defense.
Clifford ended her impassioned statement with the same words she said Hinton spoke to Martinez the night of the robbery.
“And, hey, it’s nothing personal.”
Katie Lynn Pingree, 20, of Twin Falls also pleaded guilty to the robbery last month and agreed to serve three to five years in prison. Her sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.
Dwayne Lee McCormick, 32, and Laaken Shai Draper, 20, both of Twin Falls, are still fighting their robbery charges in the case and both are waiting to be arraigned in District Court next week.
“(Hinton) admitted today he was involved in the robbery of Tigre Martinez,” Deputy Prosecutor Rosemary Emory told Stoker during her argument Tuesday. “The evidence would have showed he did participate in tying him up. It also would have shown that Tigre Martinez was taped with electrical tape over his mouth and nose at some point and that a rag was put in his mouth.”
While Martinez died soon after the robbery, Emory said, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Hinton with a homicide.
“The autopsy report did not support the conclusion that the robbery conclusively killed Mr. Martinez,” she said. “So we do think that the robbery charge is appropriate and that 15 to 20 (years) is also appropriate.”
Stoker also sentenced Hinton to five years in prison for intimidating a potential witness the morning of the robbery. That sentence will run concurrently with his robbery sentence. The soonest Hinton could be paroled is 2031.
“I understand that there is certainly more to this whole matter than a robbery and an intimidation,” the judge said. “This is not a homicide case. And I understand there are things that could be said about that, but we’re not here to sentence a homicide … we are here to sentence this defendant for the crimes that he’s pled guilty to. And that’s what I intend to do.”
While Stoker could sentence Hinton based only on the robbery, Clifford was able to speak freely while giving her victim-impact statement.
Sitting next to the prosecutor, Clifford asked the judge for permission to face Hinton while speaking.
“He had three children, and you knew that,” Clifford said. “You threatened Tigre with his son … if he didn’t stop moving, you would hurt his son.
“He’s got an autistic little boy and he kisses his daddy’s little picture because he misses him so much. You don’t know how this affects people. I want you to do every single day of 20 years in prison for what you’ve done,” she said. “...You stuck methamphetamine in his body. You tied his hands and his feet up. You put a gag in his mouth, you and Dwayne, and put tape over his nose and his mouth so he couldn’t breathe. So he suffocated. And you took the rag out of his mouth and he took his last breath. You were the last one to see him alive.”
Hinton, who wore sunglasses and an orange jail jumpsuit and spoke in a loud, clear voice throughout the hearing, answered “no comment” when given the chance to speak before the sentencing decision.
Earlier in the hearing, Hinton admitted to robbing Martinez while he was tied up, using “a gun-like instrument” to threaten a neighbor that morning and telling him, “Sorry that it has to be this way, but you need to go back into your house right now.”
Stoker did not order Hinton to pay restitution but gave prosecutors two weeks to make a motion seeking restitution, after which Hinton’s attorney, Loren Bingham from the public defender’s office, will have 30 days to make any objections.
“We are hopeful that this sentence will bring (Martinez’s family) some satisfaction,” Emory told the court.
Outside the courtroom, Clifford hugged County Prosecutor Grant Loebs as other members of Martinez’s family shook hands with Emory.
The family expressed disappointment with Loebs’ office last year that nobody was charged with Martinez’s death, but Tuesday, Clifford said, they understand the autopsy wouldn’t have allowed prosecutors to win a homicide conviction.
Facing Hinton in court helped them gain a measure of justice.
“I was speaking for me, for my dad and for Tigre,” Clifford said. “Everything I’ve been feeling and everything I’ve been thinking since May 26 of last year finally got to come out verbally. And I finally got to see the man who murdered my brother and look into his eyes … I was letting it all out on him, and he couldn’t say anything back. He had to stand there and take it from me like my brother took it from him.”