ELKO — Though acting on impulse, driven by a severe drug addiction, Leslie Oppenhein was committed to living the rest of his life crime-free and probation was a fitting punishment, argued defense attorney Gary Woodbury.
Instead, Oppenhein was sentenced to 16 years in prison with parole eligibility after five years and four months.
The 19-year-old Elko resident was accused of attempting to rob two of his peers — Cierra Pangborn and Craig Smith — at gunpoint on a late August night, along with a pair of 17-year-old co-defendants. The victims sped off when they saw Oppenhein’s pistol, but Oppenhein fired the gun, hitting Smith in the back shoulder.
Police captured Oppenhein the following morning in his Seventh Street home. Investigators also found more than $10,000 worth of stolen property, including guns, prescription pills, electronics and motorcycles. Oppenhein was charged with attempted murder and 11 other felonies related to the incidents.
The defendant and the prosecution reached a plea deal earlier this year. The DA agreed to drop all counts except three — battery with the use of a deadly weapon; attempted robbery; and receiving, possessing or withholding stolen goods — and Oppenhein agreed to plead no contest.
Each count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, though each is parole eligible as well, meaning District Judge Nancy Porter had wide discretion of giving the defendant from up to 30 years of prison time to as little as none Monday afternoon during a sentencing hearing.
Porter had little faith that if given a chance Oppenhein wouldn’t quickly return to more crime fueled by drug addiction. She also noted the seriousness of firing a gun at another human.
Before the judge decided, both sides argued for opposite outcomes.
Oppenhein realized he made a mistake, the defense said.
Most importantly, Woodbury argued, the young defendant is impressionable and in need of positive guidance that would be hard to find among a prison’s population. A prolonged prison stay would churn out a more hardened person than the one it took in, he said.
“The very worse thing that can happen to him, the one that will ensure that were going to bring a guy out of prison ... (after) however long you might put him in there, a career criminal who’s 100 percent worse than this young man. He is looking for somebody to follow, somebody to counsel (him), someone to show him the way that the world really works,” he said.
Probation would be letting the defendant off easy, Deputy District Attorney Rob Lowe argued.
“With all due respect Your Honor, I’m got to have to depart from the division of parole and probation’s recommendation in this case. This is not a case for probation,” Lowe said.
Oppenhein not only put the victims’ lives in jeopardy, but a stray bullet fired on an Elko street could have harmed a community bystander.
The cache of stolen property was substantial and taken from many different people, Lowe said, which also warranted the judge’s consideration.
“What do you do with someone like this that has a propensity for violence and for possessing stolen property, and not just a piece or two but a shed full of it?” Lowe asked. The prosecution also argued that the charge related to possessing stolen property should run consecutively to the other charges because it wasn’t directly related to his attempted robbery.
“Our bottom line is that this guy needs to go to prison,” Lowe said.
Ordained minister Marcus Menicucci, former Elko resident and uncle to the defendant, testified that in his position he has counseled people afflicted with drug addictions. He told the court he knew his nephew well and believed Oppenhein was transformed since the time of the incident.
“I can see the look in his eyes. He’s repented. He’s remorseful and he’s changed. He’s sorrowful for what he’s done, not even remembering half of what he did because of the drugs,” Menicucci said.
Woodbury argued that according to a taped recording in which Elko Police Lt. Ty Trouten interviewed Oppenhein immediately after he was detained, of the three involved, Oppenhein told the officer he tried to counsel against the robbery.
Because the two co-defendants were minors at the time of the crime, information about their cases is not available to the public.
Oppenhein also told police during the interview that he wasn’t trying to shoot Smith but only trying to blow out his tires.
Smith, who sat in the back of the courtroom with Pangborn, scoffed when Woodbury suggested the court take Oppenhein’s police statement at face value.
Without defending the action, Woodbury also suggested that the three defendants felt the victims burned them on a prior drug deal.
“That’s just the way this stupid world works. If you’re going to sell drugs one of the things that you have to expect is if you beat someone out of some money they can’t go talk to a lawyer or come to a court. All that’s left is physical violence,” Woodbury said. “I’m not excusing Mr. Oppenhein but I am suggesting that’s the world he lived in.”
Oppenhein was credited with 234 days served. He was also ordered to pay $10,169.45 in restitution.