Fernando Valenzuela’s crime was so jarring — he rammed a Honda Civic into two men who’d just gotten out of the car, killing one of them — that the story of the man who died has sometimes become lost in accounts of the case.
Sitting in a packed Montgomery County courtroom Thursday, moments before Valenzuela was sentenced, Adam Barnes didn’t want that to happen again.
Barnes stood up and walked to the front of the courtroom, one of a string of friends and family members who’d come to speak about Billie Jay “BJ” Genies, a longtime Montgomery resident who was 34 when Valenzuela mowed him down in December.
Barnes told the judge that he wanted to tell a story from a year ago. He was driving, and Genies was in the passenger seat. They stopped at a red light. A homeless woman approached from the left. Genies asked Barnes to lower the window, he leaned over and he handed the woman a few dollars.
“Here you go,” he told her. “God bless you. Now I’m as broke as you.”
Many in the courtroom laughed, because to them, it cut to the heart of Genies. He didn’t have much money — he’d struggled over the years with arrests and trying to hold down steady jobs. But he was quick to joke, to try to make those around him laugh. “If anybody knows BJ,” Barnes said in court, “that’s just who he was.”
Circuit Court Judge David A. Boynton, after acknowledging how Genies had affected so many people in different ways, sentenced Valenzuela to 20 years in the case, the maximum he could under a deal in which Valenzuela pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault.
Boynton also sentenced Valenzuela, 21, to an additional 35 years, suspended, which he could serve if he gets in trouble again after his release, when he’s on probation.
The judge said he agreed with the term used by prosecutors from the Montgomery state’s attorneys office to describe Valenzuela’s crime. “Depravity, as the state points out, is the succinct way of putting it,” he said.
Of Valenzuela’s use of a car as a lethal weapon, Boynton said: “He might as well have fired a cannon at him or thrown a hand grenade.”
Details of the case and about Valenzuela and Genies emerged during the hearing — as did something about their friends and relatives, about 50 sitting on both sides of the courtroom and two dozen standing along the walls or in the alcove.
During a period for public statements, a third cousin of Genies’s — who had just seen members of Valenzuela’s family stand up and invoke their faith — walked to the front of the courtroom and led everyone in prayer. More than 60 heads bowed. “If everybody could just keep their faith in the Lord and walk the right path,” Christie Long said, “I know that things will turn out for the better for each side in every situation. Amen.”
“Amen,” repeated the crowd.
Genies and Valenzuela didn’t know each other before the night of the killing. For some, part of the tragedy of Genies’s death stemmed from the random events that led to it.
The night of Dec. 4, Valenzuela and two friends were hanging out in Damascus, where he lived, drinking from a 12-pack of beer. Around midnight, they decided to go to a nearby McDonald’s. It was closed, so they crossed the street to a 7-Eleven to get food there. On their way out, they met BJ Genies and his brother, James, and the five began talking.
At some point, Valenzuela and his friends discussed giving the brothers a ride to Gaithersburg, where they would get marijuana, prosecutors wrote in court papers.
All five piled into the Civic and began listening to a CD belonging to BJ Genies. The five took turns rapping to the music.
In Gaithersburg, Valenzuela stopped and got out to relieve himself. Others did, too. But instead of getting back into the car, the Genies brothers began to walk away. Valenzuela and his friends got into the car. Valenzuela grew angry: It was becoming clear to him that he wouldn’t be getting any marijuana, prosecutors wrote in court papers, and he hadn’t been paid for the ride. He began “to stalk” the Genies brothers as they walked away, according to the prosecutors, Eric Nee and Bryan Roslund.
Eventually, Valenzuela spotted the two from behind and told his friends that he was going to hit them. He accelerated, swerved to the right and hit the men so hard that both were knocked out of their shoes. BJ Genies suffered lethal head injuries and died at the scene. James Genies was knocked out but survived.
As Nee recounted the crash in court Thursday, many of the Genies brothers’ friends and relatives softly cried.
Valenzuela’s friends and family members said he had been an otherwise hardworking young man. His attorney, Andrew Jezic, told the judge that it was Valenzuela who insisted that he not fight the charges. And Valenzuela himself spoke, struggling over his words as he turned to victims’ relatives and friends. “I’m extremely sorry,” he said.