Local News

Neighbor: Found son lying on dead father

Posted August 19, 2015 9:52 a.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2015 11:07 a.m. EDT

— In the first full day of testimony in the trial of a man charged with the mistaken-identity murder of a Garner couple, friends and family told the court about how they found out about the deaths of Samuel and Maria Mendoza.

Israel Paetta, who lives near the Mendozas, said he was startled when he heard the gunshots.

"I was focused on watching a show when suddenly I heard shooting," he said.

Paetta and other neighbors said they rushed outside to see what was going on.

Patrocinio Puerta Ramierez, who lives beside the couple, testified to finding their 3-year-old son lying, sobbing, on his father's chest.

"What hit me was the sadness of the child," Paetta said.

Ramierez also testified that bullets came through his wall - just about a foot away from where his 9-year-old son was sleeping.

Jurors are considering the case of Jonathan Santillan, one of two men charged with first-degree murder and first-degree burglary in the Jan. 5, 2013, attack. According to court documents, the Mendozas were at home with their 3-year-old son, at 708 Colonial Drive, when the 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 boy was not injured in the attack.

The first witness to testify Wednesday for the state was the brother of Maria Mendoza, who had taken the couple's older son to his home that night.

"We were told somebody has gone into her house...that they had murdered them," said Carlos Saravia Nativi.

He testified that the couple, who were longtime employees of Golden Corral, worked, went to church and cared for their two young sons.

Authorities have said the Mendozas were unintended victims of a dispute between two rival gangs, and that the target had lived in the house in 2011 prior to the couple moving there.

Former gang members took the stand and testified that they believed the killings were related to a December 2012 shooting involving rival gangs. The men said they believed someone was seeking revenge and got the wrong address.

Investigators found throughout the home dozens of shell casings from a .45 caliber handgun and a 7.62mm rifle, which helped them link the crime to Santillan and his uncle, Isrrael Vasquez. Vasquez will be tried in 2016.

WRAL.com will continue to stream the trial live on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.