- Associated Press - Friday, November 6, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - A jury sentenced an Arizona man to life in prison Friday for killing his 6-year-old nephew after the child witnessed his father’s shooting death.

The decision spared Christopher Rey Licon the death penalty and leaves a judge to decide whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be eligible for release after 35 years. Jurors deliberated for two days before reaching the decision on punishment.

Licon was convicted in mid-September in the 2010 shooting deaths of his half brother, Angel Jaquez, and his nephew, Xavier Jaquez. He does not face the death penalty in his brother’s killing and will be sentenced to 16 to 25 years on Dec. 16.

Authorities say Licon shot his brother in the back of the head over a drug dispute as Jaquez watched TV at their Phoenix town house, then kidnapped the child and shot him 20 miles away in an alley.

Licon was accused of killing his nephew out of fear that the child would snitch on him because the boy heard or saw his father die.

The boy, surrounded by a pool of blood, was still wearing his school uniform and had a Burger King kid’s meal nearby when his body was found by sanitation workers. He also was shot in the back of the head.

Licon mounted an unsuccessful insanity defense that would have spared him a prison sentence and sent him to the state mental hospital for the rest of his life.

Licon’s lawyer said his client was in the throes of a psychotic episode on the day of the deaths. A prosecutor argued that Licon was well-aware of his actions when he carried out the killings and took steps to protect himself, such as breaking into an apartment to stash the handgun used in the crimes.

A neighbor witnessed Licon dragging his nephew into a car that would be used to bring the child to the alley where he was killed, authorities said.

Licon was in an illegal drug business with Jaquez and acknowledged selling drugs in the months before both deaths, prosecutors said.

Licon, then a construction management student at Arizona State University, told investigators that he was studying at a library in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe at the time his brother was killed. He said he came home to find his brother’s body in the town house.

But authorities say Licon’s alibi collapsed quickly after they interviewed neighbors and gathered other evidence.

Two key pieces of evidence were found inside the car used to bring the boy to the alley: a 9 mm bullet casing that matched a casing found at Jaquez’s home and a toy from the Burger King kid’s meal.

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