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Santillan gets life without parole for Mendoza murders

Jonathan Santillan, who was convicted Friday of first-degree murder in the January 2013 killings of a Garner couple, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Jonathan Santillan, who was convicted Friday of first-degree murder in the January 2013 killings of a Garner couple, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole.

Santillan was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 15 at the time of the crimes.

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. He received sentences for those charges ranging from two years minimum to 16 years maximum.

Defense attorney Jeff Cutler said he intends to appeal.

According to court documents, Jose and Maria Mendoza were at home, at 708 Colonial Drive, with their 3-year-old son, Jacob, 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.

On Tuesday, Maria Mendoza's sister, who is now caring for the couple's two children, said the tragedy has affected their entire family.

Speaking through an interpreter, Julia Nativi told the court Jacob, who was in the home at the time of the murders, remembers it all and is undergoing a lot of therapy.

She said Jacob told her the gunman pointed a weapon at him, and that he was alive only because the gun ran out of "battery or charge."

Santillan's mother, Jackie, also took the stand Tuesday morning and told the court her son was a good kid, until his father, who was in prison, was kidnapped by a drug cartel and presumed dead.

"(Jonathan) went from a good, little church boy to a very depressed child," she said.

She went on to say that her son had attempted suicide attempts in grade school, and that he was hospitalized multiple times.

Prosecutor David Saacks asked the judge to sentence Santillan to life in prison without parole, saying the murders were premeditated.

Cutler said he recommended life in prison with parole.

"To say (Jonathan) should never get out is a serious, and some would say, a cruel punishment for a juvenile," he said.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner said he took everything into consideration – including Santillan's record of suicide attempts and hospitalizations – in the sentencing decision.

"There is insufficient evidence before the court to find that he did not have the ability to appreciate the risks and consequences of his conduct or the existence of familial or peer pressure exerted upon the defendant," Gessner said. "That sentence is appropriate and proportional to both the defendant and the offenses."

Santillan, who showed no reaction when he was convicted Friday, also showed no emotion when the sentence was given. However, Cutler said his client had begun taking medication Tuesday that made him sleepy.


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