Local News

Jury convicts Santillan in shooting deaths of Garner couple

Posted August 28, 2015 2:54 p.m. EDT
Updated August 28, 2015 3:41 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County jury on Friday convicted Jonathan Santillan of two counts of first-degree murder in the January 2013 killings of a Garner couple who were shot in what investigators said was a case of mistaken identity.

Santillan was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, possession of a gun with an altered serial number and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.

Santillan showed no emotion when the verdict was read. His mother, who was behind him in the courtroom, covered her mouth and cried.

The sentencing phase did not begin immediately following the verdict because of Santillan's age at the time of the crimes. He was 15.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner dismissed the jury and said he will convene with prosecutors and defense attorneys at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss sentencing.

"In this matter, because of the defendant's age...the law requires the court to conduct a hearing to determine what appropriate punishment will be," Gessner said.

The options are life in prison with parole or without parole, he said. Santillan will not face the death penalty because of his age.

Defense attorney Jeff Cutler said he will file an appeal.

"I objected to certain pieces of evidence coming into the trial, issues with how police handled that statement," he said.

According to court documents, Jose and Maria Mendoza were at home, at 708 Colonial Drive, with their 3-year-old son on Jan. 5, 2013, when two teens – wearing hair nets, masks and gloves – kicked in their door and shot them.

Jose Mendoza, 34, was shot 16 times in the head, chest and torso, and Maria Mendoza, 34, was shot seven times in the back, lower abdomen and legs. The child was not injured in the attack.

Santillan's uncle, Isrrael Vasquez, is also charged with murder in the case. He will be tried separately.

Investigators believe the shooting at the Mendoza home was a continuation of a December 2012 gang fight but that the suspects had the wrong address for the man they were looking for and mistakenly killed the Mendozas.

The intended target of the gang had once lived in the home on Colonial Drive but had moved out and the Mendozas moved in, which led to the tragedy, according to investigators. The couple both worked at a Golden Corral restaurant.

In his closing Thursday, prosecutor David Saacks asked the jury to remember the victims.

"From the very start this case has shocked us and horrified us," he said. "This case is not about vengeance, it's about justice."

Cutler on Thursday asked the jury not to base their verdict on emotions or the testimony of the state's "star witness," the alleged getaway driver, Moises Reyes. Reyes, the only person who put Santillan at the home on the night of the murders, admitted to being the getaway driver.

"Moises Reyes is lying to get himself out of a murder charge," Cutler said in his closing argument. "Moises Reyes is not worthy of belief. He could not tell a simple truth on the witness stand."

The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon but adjourned until noon Friday. When they resumed Friday, they returned a verdict in less than three hours.

Gessner told jurors they were under no obligation to talk about the case to the media, but he urged them to talk to someone if they are troubled by it.

"Cases such as this are very difficult," he said. "It's normal to be affected by these things, and people sometimes find comfort talking to folks to talk through the issues."