September 7, 2013

Canales gets two life sentences for killing father, brother

Rachel Brown

— Emilio Christopher Canales will be about 88 years old before he’s eligible for parole after a Superior Court judge in Whitfield County sentenced him to two consecutive life terms plus 25 years behind bars for killing his father and brother and shooting his mother in the back.

Canales in early July pleaded guilty to several crimes, including two counts of murder, related to shooting his father, Emilio Canales Sr.; brother, Francisco Canales; and mother, Deborah Canales, at their home at 1011 Dude St. in Dalton in April 2012. At that time Judge William T. Boyett sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole but scheduled a hearing to consider evidence that could mitigate that sentence.

Canales and his attorney, Public Defender Mike McCarthy, asked during that hearing on Aug. 2 for the judge to consider sentencing Canales to life with the possibility of parole — which he would be eligible for after 30 years — while District Attorney Bert Poston argued for no parole.

Deborah Canales testified in court on Aug. 2 that her son, whom she referred to as Christopher, was “a good kid” and she wanted him to have the possibility of getting out of prison one day. She said her ex-husband, his father, was abusive toward her in front of her son and that he had humiliated and belittled Christopher over the years. McCarthy asked the judge to consider those things.

Poston argued that day that Canales killed his family members in “cold blood,” that he obtained several gang-related tattoos while he was in prison, showing the kind of life he envisioned for himself, and that the sentence shouldn’t include a parole possibility.

Boyett said he issued the revised sentence after reviewing what the law provides for. The sentence includes the possibility of parole, but state law requires that Canales first serve at least 60 years in prison because of the consecutive sentencing. He was also sentenced to an additional 25 years for related offenses, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, to be served concurrently.

Poston said at the Aug. 2 hearing that prosecutors would have pressed for the death penalty except that some of the family members didn’t want to face the rigors of a trial. Boyett said after reviewing the law he learned that if a person gets consecutive life sentences for murder they must serve at least 30 years in prison on each count, for a maximum of 60 years, before being considered for parole. Poston said the final sentence is practically the same as if Canales had received life without parole.

Poston said it’s difficult to determine exactly what was going through Canales’ mind when he began killing his family members. He told investigators at one point that his father had spoken of his girlfriend in a derogatory manner shortly before the shootings, but Poston said there was tension between the two men for much longer than that. Whether Canales shot his brother and mother out of a desire to eliminate witnesses, in anger or for some other reason is difficult to ever prove, Poston said.

Deborah Canales declined to comment after the sentencing on Friday. Whatever happened in April 2012, she continued to express affection toward her son in the courtroom. On Aug. 2, she called out to him, “I love you honey, with all my heart!” He greeted her with smiles and nods as he entered the courtroom on Friday.