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'You should probably never get out of prison': Suspect sentenced for murdering 21-year-old Mesa store clerk in 2015

Apolinar Altamirano was sentenced Friday after pleading guilty to murdering a convenience store clerk in Mesa over a pack of cigarettes.

PHOENIX — Editor's Note: The above video is from an earlier broadcast. 

A Maricopa County judge has sentenced a man to 38.5 years in prison for killing a 21-year-old QuikTrip clerk in 2015. 

Apolinar Altamirano, 37, pleaded guilty to murdering Grant Ronnebeck in Mesa after the convenience store clerk insisted Altamirano pay for a pack of cigarettes. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Prosecutors can't seek execution in case against immigrant accused of killing Grant Ronnebeck

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Justin Beresky delivered Altamirano's fate Friday morning and put an end to a lengthy case that contributed to the national debate over immigration reform. 

"This is one of the most callous, cold-blooded killings that I've been part of. I frankly think you should probably never get out of prison," said Judge Beresky, noting the defendant's sentencing was already negotiated in the plea agreement. 

Altamirano was sentenced to four separate charges. His punishment for each offense was as follows: 25 years in prison, 11 years in prison, 2.5 years in prison, and 5 years of probation. 

The victim's family members were in the courtroom as Beresky handed down his judgment and many described the anguish they've endured during the last seven years. 

"I miss him every day," Ronnebeck's father told the judge. "I've missed seven birthdays, I've missed seven Christmases...Grant's favorite holiday was Christmas...The joy of Christmas is gone for me." 

Altamirano is a citizen of Mexico who has lived in the U.S. without authorization for about 20 years. He has been deported and returned to the U.S. in the past.

Then-President Donald Trump repeatedly cited Altamirano’s case to claim immigrants who reside in the U.S. illegally commit crimes at higher rates than U.S.-born citizens. Federal research shows the opposite. U.S.-born citizens are "2 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes," compared to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, according to one 2020 study.

In the years following the 21-year-old's death, Ronnebeck's relatives would publicly advocate for policy changes that might prevent a similar crime from occurring again. 

"We want Grant's death to be a force for change and reform immigration policies of this great nation," Grant's uncle told a congressional panel in 2015.

Credit: 12News

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