This story was corrected at 4:50 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Billie Jay and James Genies were walking down West Diamond Avenue in December when a car struck them like a “missile,” a prosecutor said in court Thursday.
The impact knocked both brothers out of their shoes, killing 34-year-old Billie Jay, who was known as B.J., and knocking James, 35, unconscious.
“When I think about the pain and grief I caused the Genies family, I think about if my parents were murdered, how I would feel. I think they’re probably feeling 100 times worse,” Fernando Valenzuela of Damascus said in court Thursday, before a judge ordered him to serve 20 years in prison.
Valenzuela, 21, was the man behind the wheel the night one died and the other seriously injured.
The ramifications of his actions left two families shaken and grieving.
“There’s a lot of hurting in the Genies family,” said Eric Nee, Montgomery County assistant state’s attorney, before asking Montgomery Circuit Court Judge David A. Boynton to sentence Valenzuela to 20 years in prison.
“[Your] actions showed little regard for the value of human life. ... That’s what shouts out to me about this case and the facts of what happened,” Boynton said, calling Billie’s death an “enormous loss,” before sentencing Valenzuela to 55 years in prison and suspending 35 years.
The Genies family was trying to work through the utter disregard for the men’s lives, Nee said.
“Three thousand pounds of steel, glass and hard rubber came barreling at these two men who did nothing wrong that night, and he wiped them out,” Nee said.
Valenzuela pleaded guilty to second-degree depraved-heart murder and first-degree assault in May, after many of the details of the incident came to light.
Nee said Valenzuela met the two brothers the night of Dec. 4 or the early morning hours of Dec. 5.
After Valenzuela got off of work, he and two friends drank beer, then went to a McDonald’s in Damascus. The restaurant was closed; they went to a 7-Eleven instead, where they ran into the Genies brothers, who were from Potomac.
“Things between the young men were very cordial,” Nee said at the plea hearing. “There was no animosity.”
The brothers asked for a ride to Gaithersburg, offering Valenzuela some marijuana. But when they got to Gaithersburg, the brothers walked away from Valenzuela without paying him.
Incensed, Valenzuela followed them with his car, and hit them as they were walking near the entrance of the Avalon School. The impact bent the rims of the black Honda Civic and destroyed its windshield. Valenzuela drove away and parked nearby. Billie Genies died at the scene; James Genies was knocked unconscious, but survived.
Andrew Jezic, Valenzuela’s defense attorney, said in court that Valenzuela did not intend to kill the two brothers, but pleaded guilty because he wanted to take responsibility for his actions and because he was deeply remorseful.
Jezic said that Valenzuela had come to the decision to plead guilty while in solitary confinement, where he spent a great deal of time reflecting on his actions, reading the Bible and praying.
But the wounds of the loss and injury of the Genies brothers still weighed heavily on their family and supporters.
“To know someone did this on purpose is hard to fathom,” Nee said, bringing a heavy sigh from James Genies, who was in the Montgomery County Detention Center on unrelated charges, watched the proceedings in his cell via a closed-circuit camera.
Relatives of the Genies brothers told Boynton they were having a hard time forgiving Valenzuela and getting over the assault and death. They also couldn’t understand why Valenzuela didn’t stay at the scene after hitting the two brothers.
“Why didn’t they think to call police?” asked Evelyn Genies, the brothers’ grandmother.
“The pain today is just as great as it was eight months ago,” an aunt said in court, before addressing Valenzuela directly.
“If a person does harm when they don’t mean to do it, they stay and try to help. ... You just left the scene,” she told him.
“It was like roadkill,” said James Martin, the father. “My family is definitely going to need some time to heal.”
The Valenzuela family also said they were grieving. This was out of character for him, they said, speaking about how he worked hard, volunteered and was a polite boy with a “generous heart,” one friend said.
“Please forgive us,” said Oscar Valenzuela, Fernando’s uncle.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that James Genies had died in the attack. James Genies was injured and Billie Jay Genies died.