Byline: Gary V. Murray
WORCESTER - A gunfight nearly four years ago that left one man dead and another seriously injured led to state prison sentences yesterday for two cousins from Fitchburg.
Erick Rodriguez, 27, and Ivan Villot-Santiago, 23, had each been charged with murder in the July 3, 2008, shooting death of 32-year-old Nelson Ortega of Boston during an exchange of gunfire on Congress Street in Fitchburg that investigators said was drug- and gang-related.
The cousins each pleaded guilty yesterday in Worcester Superior Court to a reduced charge of manslaughter and other offenses. Each was sentenced to 10 to 15 years' imprisonment with 10 years of probation to follow.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Quinlan said Mr. Ortega was unarmed when he was fatally shot in the head.
In addition to manslaughter, Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Villot-Santiago each pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, carrying a firearm without a license and carrying a loaded firearm without a license. Armed assault with intent to murder and unlawful possession of a firearm or ammunition charges against each defendant were dismissed as part of the plea agreement in the case.
The sentences imposed by Judge James R. Lemire were recommended by Mr. Quinlan and lawyers Michael P. McEvilly and Kristen J. Patria, who represented Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Villot-Santiago, respectively.
A third defendant in the case, 21-year-old Ryan J. O'Neill of Roslindale, who has been described by prosecutors as an associate of Mr. Ortega, was also charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year and was sentenced to 4 to 5 years in state prison.
Mr. O'Neill was shot in the back in the shootout.
Prosecutors said at the time of his plea hearing that Mr. O'Neill was charged with the fatal shooting, which occurred during a July 4 celebration, because his reckless conduct indirectly caused the death of Mr. Ortega.
Mr. Quinlan said Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Villot-Santiago were with others on Congress Street in Fitchburg on the night of the killing when Mr. Ortega, Mr. O'Neill and one or two other men walked through the intersection of Congress and Myrtle streets.
Witnesses told investigators that Mr. O'Neill, displaying a handgun, approached Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Villot-Santiago. A witness saw Mr. Rodriguez pull out two handguns, keeping one for himself and handing the other to Mr. Villot-Santiago, according to Mr. Quinlan.
Mr. Rodriguez and Mr...