Local News

Prosecutor calls Mendoza killings 'cold-blooded murder'

Posted August 27, 2015 12:33 p.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2015 5:14 p.m. EDT

— Closing arguments began Thursday morning in the trial of Jonathan Santillan, the man charged in the mistaken-identity murder of Jose and Maria Mendoza than two years ago.

In his closing, 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."

According to court documents, the Mendozas were at home with their 3-year-old son, at 708 Colonial Drive 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 and his uncle, Isrrael Vasquez, are both charged with murder in the case. They are being tried separately.

Saacks told jurors Thursday that in order to come back with a guilty verdict of first-degree murder, there needs to be malice, deliberation and premeditation.

"This case is the very definition of overkill," he said. "It's showing that intent to kill was in (Santillan's) mind as he came through the door. It's showing he planned this, and if you’re planning this, then your premeditating it, and you’re deliberating about it - which is exactly what the law shows you this is, a cold-blooded murder."

Investigators testified earlier in the week that more than 40 shots were fired inside the Mendoza home.

Dr. Clay Nichols, a medical examiner, testified that the victims were shot a total of 23 times.

Saacks went on to list pieces of evidence that point to Santillan as the killer.

Following Saacks, defense attorney Jeff Cutler 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, who testified for the state Thursday, admitted to being the getaway driver only.

Reyes is the only person who put Santillan at the home on the night of the murders, Cutler said.

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

Cutler asked the jury to return a verdict of not guilty on any charge relating to the homicides.

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.

Santillan, who was 15 when the crime was committed, cannot face the death penalty because of his age.