Twice this year inside a Tarrant County courtroom, Tiffany Martinez has faced one of her sister’s accused killers.
In January, she looked into the eyes of Gilbert Collins, who had just been sentenced to life in prison for the armed robbery of a Fort Worth game room that occurred two days before the slaying of her sister, 24-year-old Monica Soto.
Reading a letter on behalf of her family, she told the 33-year-old man about the “beautiful vibrant” woman whom he was accused of shooting April 22, 2013, and the young son who now has far too few memories of his mother.
“Jasiah has had his days and moments when he had stayed up crying, asking when his mommy is waking up or coming back home to him,” Martinez told Collins. “She never had that chance to experience seeing him off to his first day of school or even being there to celebrate his sixth birthday. ... All he now has left are memories of his mommy.”
On Monday, Martinez read the same letter to Lisa Ann Rasberry, Collin’s 28-year-old girlfriend, who police have said participated in the attack that left Soto dead and two others wounded.
Rasberry pleaded guilty to the game room robbery in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence and the dismissal of the murder charge and two charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
“She just started crying,” Martinez said of Rasberry’s reaction to her words. “I was crying, shaking. I think this one hit me a lot harder knowing this is it. The case is closed. My sister is at peace now and everything is done and over with.”
‘Justice is served’
Prosecutors say they pursued the armed robbery charges against both defendants instead of a murder charge — both are first-degree felonies — because the robbery case was “the stronger case.”
In the robbery, Collins and Rasberry forced the doorman of Mr. G’s Game Room into the bathroom and demanded money from four other people inside the business. Collins fired shots into the floor and walls and smashed the doorman’s phone before the couple fled.
“In these cases, a very violent robbery was captured on surveillance video. The State had DNA evidence, ballistics, and confessions of all the defendants to their role, much to the thanks of the Fort Worth Police Department,” prosecutor Joshua Ross explained in an email.
Ross said Soto’s family was “high involved” during all phases of the investigation and prosecution, and that the woman’s slaying was considered part of the resolution of the cases.
“The fact that the state did not proceed to trial on the murder indictments should not be taken as a comment upon Monica or her family,” Ross said.
Martinez said the family supported the prosecutor’s handling of the cases.
“I do believe justice is served,” Martinez said. “Now they’re both serving time behind bars. They’re not out there harming others and having other families go through the pain and suffering that we still go through.”
An attack without warning
Soto had spent her last night attending the Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival and later hanging out with friends and eating an early breakfast at IHOP.
Hours later, Melissa Soto, logged onto Facebook to find that someone had posted on her twin sister’s page, “RIP Moni.”
Learning there had been a shooting, the family rushed to the 3800 block of Terry Street where they found police on the scene and Soto’s friend’s car being towed away.
Police and family members have said Rasberry and Collins were riding in the car with Soto, her friend, Payton Neria, and Alberto Gonzalez when the couple suddenly attacked the three without warning, ordering Neria to pull over.
Neria was beaten and reportedly stunned with a Taser before escaping. Gonzalez was shot in the jaw but survived his injury. Soto died en route to the hospital from multiple gunshot wounds.
The jury in Collins’ trial heard evidence of Soto’s slaying, as well as two previous prison sentences, during the punishment phase of his trial. Collins’ defense attorney suggested during the trial that Collins had accidentally shot Soto while trying to shoot Gonzalez in self-defense.
“There was evidence that the motive was a carjacking, but all things considered, the motive for the shooting is unclear,” Ross said.
‘I am so sorry’
Martinez said she and family members had shown up for court Monday, expecting Rasberry to plead guilty in the game room robbery and seek sentencing from the judge.
But when they arrived, they learned Rasberry had decided she’d rather take the 25-year prison sentence previously offered by the state.
Martinez said prosecutors consulted with the family before accepting.
“At first I was upset,” Martinez admits. “I was like, why give her that opportunity to choose what she wants when they didn’t give my sister a chance to choose to live or die? Why should I give her that opportunity?”
But after talking it over with the family, Martinez said they decided 25 years was “good enough for us.”
“We were just pretty much ready to get it over with; that way we could go on,” Martinez said. “You’re never going to get over the pain. It’s always going to remain, but just to go forward and have justice.”
Though she had not expected to have to deliver a victim impact statement that day, Martinez said she decided to share the same letter she had read to Collins.
“I always carry it with me just to remind me how far I’ve come and everything that went on,” Martinez said.
Collins showed some tears when she spoke to him in January, Martinez said, but Rasberry’s remorseful reaction surprised her. At the end of the hearing, as Rasberry remained in the courtroom for the completion of some paperwork, the two women’s eyes met.
“She looked me straight in the eye and she whispered, ‘I am so sorry,’ and she started crying,” Martinez said.
Martinez said she began sobbing, too.
“That, for me, was peace in my heart. That’s what I needed,” she said.
“I’ve learned to deal with it. It was hard for me. I’ve prayed to God all the time to help me forgive them so I can move on. It’s not that I will ever be friends with them, but in order for us to move forward, we have to forgive them for what they did.
“It’s not going to bring my sister back, but we need to move on and live without that hatred in our heart.”