Nampa teen sentenced in 'savage' battery case: 'They killed my son that night'

Anthony Garza, now 17, was one of two teenagers accused of beating Jason Cooley Jr. on May 27, 2017, at a Nampa park. (Courtesy Photo)

NAMPA — A teenager convicted of beating another teenager and leaving him permanently brain-damaged will serve time in the Department of Juvenile Corrections and possibly 14 years in prison.

Anthony Garza, now 17, was one of two teenagers accused of beating Jason Cooley Jr. on May 27, 2017, at a Nampa park. He pleaded guilty to felony aggravated battery in November in exchange for a blended sentence. Garza will first be in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Corrections until he either successfully completes the program or until he turns 21, whichever comes first. At that time, 3rd District Judge Thomas Whitney can either place Garza on probation or order him to serve the 14-year suspended prison sentence.

Garza has spent more than 225 days incarcerated. Whitney told Garza he thought Garza could be rehabilitated into society and that the juvenile corrections system would work.

“It is my hope you don’t serve those 14 years,” Whitney said. “The reason I’m doing this long of a sentence is the nature of the crime, and if I’m wrong about you and you can’t turn it around.”

For Whitney, the photos were the kind he would only see in murder cases. He called the battery “savage.” One evidence photo shows a shoe print on Cooley’s head. It isn’t dirt, Somoza said, it was a bruise.

Garza and the other teenager, who was charged in juvenile court, beat Cooley reportedly over a $30 debt. Though unclear which party started the fight, Garza and the other teenager beat Cooley up and left him for about 15 minutes in the park, then returned to find him struggling and again beat him. Because Garza is being tried as an adult, his name was released.

“This is one of the most vicious — horrifically vicious — cases that I have ever seen in my almost 14 years as a prosecutor,” said Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Ellie Somoza.

Though Somoza suggested the 15-year maximum penalty for felony aggravated battery, she first suggested Garza take part in the juvenile corrections program.

“It is a juvenile’s best hope for change,” she said. “If they cannot change and take advantage of the program, then frankly they’re going to be having a long and troubled life ahead of them.”

Garza expressed his hope for change in his life, too, when he addressed the court Thursday during his sentencing.

“I despise the person I used to be and am looking forward to the person I become,” Garza said.

He has nightmares about what he did that night. He’s ashamed that his young daughter will have to grow up with an incarcerated father. He hopes one day Cooley and his family will be able to forgive him.

But Thursday in court, Cooley’s mother, Lisa Warren, addressed the court, pleading that Garza get the maximum sentence. She believes he will hurt others the way he continually hurt her son.

In previous hearings, Somoza said Garza was continuing to threaten Cooley, though Somoza said they ultimately never proceeded with charges on those threats.

At one point while Warren was addressing the court, recounting how Garza and another teenager nearly killed her son, she paused and asked, “You think it’s funny?”

Both Garza and his defense attorney, Scott Gatewood, looked confused by the statement. When Warren’s impact statement ended, Gatewood asked that the judge and attorneys meet in chambers briefly.

Cooley, who is still seeking counseling, suffers from post-traumatic stress, as does his mother and father, Warren said. He was in a coma for a week following the beating. He had to learn how to walk again. For six months, his head hurt so much, he could not even get a haircut.

The beating turned him to drugs, Warren said. He is now serving his own probation sentence. He has a daughter who, she said, will never know her dad as he used to be.

“They killed my son that night,” Warren said. “The child I have today is not the child I had before.”

Cooley used to be a bright, happy son, she said, but he is now sullen and “struggles just every day of his life.”

Although Warren voiced concerns about Garza’s lack of remorse, four letters were submitted to the court in support of him. The letters were not read aloud.

Whitney was encouraged by Garza’s address to the court.

“I’m not surprised you have nightmares, but that helps you,” Whitney said. “If you didn’t, that kind of cold-blooded reaction would be disturbing.”

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