Cole Waters (left) and Andre Martinez (right)

Prosecutors won't seek the death penalty in the case of two 19-year-olds accused of murdering a 17-year-old in Rapid City in February.

Cole Waters and Andre Martinez will instead be sent to life in prison without the possibility of parole if they're found guilty of aiding and abetting the first-degree murder of Emmanuel Hinton.

Defense lawyers for Waters and Martinez made the announcement during a Tuesday hearing at the state court in Rapid City.

The death penalty can only be used in first-degree murder cases in "very specific situations" where aggravating factors outweigh any mitigating ones, Mark Vargo, Pennington County State's Attorney, said in an email.

"We did not believe that this was a case where it was appropriate to seek the death penalty in light of all the factors that we have to consider," Vargo said. Waters and Martinez's age "is certainly one of the mitigating factors that we would consider."

If the office had wanted to pursue the death penalty in the case of a guilty verdict, a jury would have decided whether to sentence the 19-year-olds to death or life in prison.

Waters and Martinez, both from Rapid City, are accused of fatally shooting Hinton, from Box Elder, during a Feb. 26 drug deal in Rapid City. The pair is also charged with committing a felony with a gun, conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery, and aiding and abetting an attempted first-degree robbery.

A prosecutor has said Martinez came up with a plan to rob another teenager who was selling marijuana and recruited Waters to help. When Waters, Martinez, Hinton and the other teen met, Waters held a gun — owned by Martinez — to Hinton's head before shooting him. Waters reportedly admitted to investigators that he pulled the trigger. Prosecutors have not explained why Waters allegedly shot Hinton or if Hinton was involved in the drug deal in any way.

Waters and Martinez, who are jailed on $1 million cash-only bonds, are expected to return to court for a status hearing on June 25.

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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