Gang killing nets Tacoma teenager more than 30 years in prison

Naitaalii Toleafoa was just 15 when he helped assassinate a Tacoma gang leader.

On Friday, Toleafoa, now 19, learned his punishment: 32 years, nine months in prison.

That was the high end of the standard sentencing range for Toleafoa’s first-degree murder conviction, and Pierce County deputy prosecutor Jesse Williams recommended it to Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin.

“It was nothing less than a straight-up execution,” Williams said of the death of Juan Zuniga, who was 26 when he was gunned down in May 2010.

Defense attorney Robert Quillian argued for a sentence of 25 years, citing Toleafoa’s age at the time of the crime and the fact he was not the person who fired the gun.

Quillian also said Toleafoa has “grown tremendously” over the last 18 months, physically, emotionally and mentally.

Nevin said he was mindful of the defendant’s tender age in 2010 but said the planning that went into the killing, including an exit plan that allowed him to escape to Mexico, compelled him to sentence Toleafoa to the high end.

“It was sophisticated, as these things go,” Nevin said.

Tacoma police said the killing was orchestrated by fellow gang members who were unhappy with Zuniga’s leadership. They recruited Toleafoa and Juan Ortiz to kill him.

Toleafoa and Ortiz, then 17, used a ruse – stopping by to pay some money Zuniga was owed – to get access to him, court records show. Ortiz is believed to have opened fire on the gang leader and another man in a garage in the 3300 block of North Visscher Street.

Zuniga died. The other man was paralyzed.

Toleafoa and Ortiz fled to Mexico. Toleafoa eventually was arrested there and extradited to Tacoma last year. Ortiz remains at large.

Toleafoa pleaded guilty in June.

The defendant said Friday he was sorry for his actions and wished he could apologize to Zuniga’s family. None of the victim’s relatives attended court.

Toleafoa also said he hoped to come out of prison “a changed man.”

Nevin then said it was a sad day for all concerned.

“No one comes out a winner in this situation,” the judge said.