Man sentenced to life in prison for killing 2 Germantown students on eve of graduation

WASHINGTON — A man convicted of killing two Montgomery County, Maryland, high school students the night before their graduation was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jose Canales-Yanez, 26, was sentenced in Montgomery County Circuit Court. He was convicted in January in the deaths of 17-year-old Shadi Najjar and 18-year-old Artem Ziberov, both of Germantown, on June 5, 2017.

The two were lured to Montgomery Village, thinking they were selling spare tickets to their graduation at Northwest High School the next day. Instead, their bodies were found in a Honda Civic with the lights on and the engine running on Gallery Court at around 10:45 p.m.

Najjar, behind the wheel, had been shot four times; Ziberov, 10. Detectives recovered at least 30 shell casings from the scene.

Canales-Yanez was found guilty of eight counts, including two counts of first-degree murder and two of conspiracy to commit murder. He maintains he is innocent.

Inside the courtroom Tuesday, Najjar’s father, Adi Najjar, asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence. During his victim impact statement, the father’s voice rang loudly across the courtroom as he said, “He didn’t give my son a second chance! Why should he have a second chance?”

Ziberov’s mother, Yulia Tewelow, gave a victim impact statement that was read by her husband, William Tewelow. She noted in her statement that police had said Ziberov wasn’t an intended target, that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, she added in her statement, “Where’s the right place if a neighborhood of million dollar homes is the wrong place?”

William Tewelow said that though Ziberov was his wife’s son from a previous marriage, he called the teen his own. Tewelow said now, outings are painful and holidays are agonizing, adding, “What is there to celebrate now?”

When Canales-Yanez was given the opportunity to address the victims’ families, he said they had his deepest sympathies but that he was also in pain. Canales-Yanez said he was a victim, too, and insisted he was innocent and a man of love.

“I am, most of all, a child of God,” Canales-Yanez said. And, as he quoted the Bible repeatedly and insisted that the families didn’t know him as a person, Najjar’s parents turned away from him, struggling to maintain their composure.

Three other men have been accused in the killing — Edgar Garcia-Gaona, Roger Garcia and Rony Galicia. Their cases are still pending.

At the time of Canales-Yanez’s conviction, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the murder was a “revenge killing,” and that Najjar had stolen drugs from Canales-Yanez’s future wife. After the arrest, Najjar’s father had said “there is no proof” that the teen was involved in selling or using drugs.

After the sentencing, McCarthy called Ziberov “an acquaintance” of Najjar’s who had nothing to do with the robbery, and said the defendants saw that he was in the car but shot into it anyway.

McCarthy said Canales-Yanez fired the last three shots into Najjar from very close range, and reached in to take his cellphone afterward, knowing that evidence of their earlier interactions was on it. This all added up to “an indifference to life,” McCarthy said.

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