The trial of two teenagers charged with killing a couple in their Garner-area home in 2013 has been pushed back into next year; meanwhile the defense for one of the youths is having his client undergo a mental evaluation.
Isrrael Vasquez and his nephew Jonathan Santillan, both now 17, allegedly invaded the home of Jose Samual Flores Mendoza and Maria Saravia Mendoza the night of Jan. 5, 2013, and shot them several times while the Mendozas’ 3-year-old son was in the house.
They were arrested less than three weeks later, and authorities believe the two, who are allegedly Sur 13 gang members had targeted a man in a rival gang who had formerly lived at the Mendozas’ address.
Santillan’s attorney Jeff Cutler said he does not “get the impression there will be any plea offers” from the district attorney’s office.
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But he said that does not make it an open-and-shut case.
“They’re primarily relying on a co-defendant’s testimony,” Cutler said. “There is certainly circumstantial evidence that this group of people is involved. As far as who went in and pulled the trigger, there’s nothing to go on beyond a reasonable doubt beside the co-defendant at this point.”
Cutler was referring to the grand jury testimony of Moises Reyes, a fellow gang member also charged with accessory after the fact. Reyes allegedly drove the two from the scene.
The new arraignment date will be Dec. 1, with motions due in November. Wake County Assistant District Attorney David Saacks said the judge indicated the earliest possible trial date would be in January.
Saacks said it’s too early to tell whether the decision by Cutler to have his client’s mental health examined indicates a defense strategy that would admit Santillan being involved in the shooting.
“You can surmise that, but that’s all that would be is a guess,” Saacks said. “They don’t know, so they’re looking. There’s no indication that that’s going to be the defense.”
Cutler also said it was too early to tell, saying only that Santillan “had some mental health history, like most young people these days do.”.
While Saacks said the continuance stemmed primarily from the mental health examination, Cutler said the large amount of material related to the case required more time for him and Vasquez’ attorney to examine.
The attorneys expect to have that mental health report by November.
Autopsy reports indicate Maria Mendoza was shot seven times, most of them in the back, Jose Mendoza was shot 16 times from neck to foot, most of them from the front. A search warrant indicated a .45 caliber handgun and assault rifle were used to kill the Mendozas.
Their 12-year old son was in a home nearby the couple’s home on Colonial Drive just west of Garner town limits.
David Gonzalez, a member of the gang VDM (Very Dangerous Mexicans) who used to live at the Mendoza address, contacted the sheriff’s office a day after the shooting to say he felt his life was in danger because of an altercation with another gang member.
Vasquez and Santillan were also charged in a shooting a month before the murders that wounded one man in the ankle. Ballistic tests linked the two shootings.
Investigators found no evidence that the Mendozas had any enemies. Maria and Jose had worked at the Golden Corral for eight and five years respectively. They worked at the Garner location on U.S. 70 before it moved to another location just north of town.