Wake judge to review teen murder suspect's interrogation video
Posted February 6, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A Superior Court judge in Wake County will review video of a teenaged double murder suspect's interrogation to decide if prosecutors can use it when they take the case to trial.
A defense attorney for Jonathan Santillan told Judge Paul Gessner Friday that Wake County sheriff's investigators used improper tactics when questioning the then-15-year-old in connection with the Jan. 5, 2013, shooting deaths of Jose Samual Flores Mendoza and his wife, Maria Saravia Mendoza, in Garner.
Authorities say the couple, both 34, were unintended victims of a gang dispute and that Santillan and his uncle, Isrrael Vasquez – thinking someone else lived there – forced their way into the Mendoza home at 708 Colonial Drive, shooting each of them numerous times.
The Mendozas' 3-year-old son was not injured.
Santillan, now 17, and Vasquez, 18, could go to trial later this year on multiple charges, including first-degree murder and first-degree burglary.
Representing Santillan, attorney Jeff Cutler argued Friday that detectives interrogated his client for several hours, pressuring and coercing him and ignoring comments he made about being tired, hungry, in need of his medication and wanting to call his mother.
Cutler suggested that investigators also ignored Santillan's pleas to be put into protective custody because he worried he might be killed.
Scott Barefoot, an investigator in the case, testified that he spent more than an hour making sure the teen understood his rights and that when Santillan requested an attorney, the interrogation ended.
Santillan never confessed to the crime but told authorities he had information about the killings that he heard from a friend, Barefoot said.
According to autopsy reports, deputies found Jose Mendoza lying on the couch of his single-story brick duplex. He had been shot 16 times in the head, chest and torso. Maria Mendoza, found in the kitchen, had been shot seven times in the back, lower abdomen and legs.
During a hearing in May 2013, a witness who authorities say was outside at the time of the shootings, testified that Vasquez was armed with a handgun and Santillan, an AK-47, when they went inside the home.
When the pair returned to the car, Santillan was smiling and talking about seeing a child inside, the witness said.
"We left him alone," the witness quoted Santillan as saying. "He will be traumatized."
The case was set to go to trial last year, but it was delayed because defense attorneys needed more time to review evidence.
It could be delayed further.
Gessner must decide if the teens will be tried together or separately before setting a date.
But before he can hear that matter, a new public defender for Vasquez, who was appointed last week, needs time to get familiar with the case.
If convicted, both Santillan and Vasquez face a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.