Jury selection begins in Garner homicide case

Lawyers have begun polling potential jurors for the trial of Jonathan Santillan, one of two teens accused of murdering Jose S. Flores Mendoza and Maria Saravia Mendoza, a couple investigators have described as unintended targets in a war between rival gangs.

The couple, both 34-year-old kitchen workers in a Golden Corral restaurant, were inside their Garner home shortly after midnight on Jan. 5, 2013, when, according to investigators, teens broke into the home wielding guns and looking for rival gang members.

Santillan was 15 at the time and initially accused in the Wake County juvenile court system. In May 2013, a Wake County district judge found that prosecutors had enough evidence and probable cause to transfer the case to adult court.

A Wake County grand jury handed up indictments in August 2013 accusing Santillan and his uncle Israel Vasquez, who is not quite a year older, with first-degree murder.

In addition to the two counts of first-degree murder in the Mendoza case, Vasquez and Santillan also were accused of conspiracy to commit murder against David Gonzalez and Juan Hernandez.

The trial of Santillan in Wake County Superior Court could take several weeks.

Santillan was charged, too, with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, an accusation that investigators contend stemmed from a Dec. 4 incident in which he was accused of assaulting Hernandez with a handgun. The grand jury also handed up an indictment charging Santillan with possession of a handgun with an altered serial number - a .45-caliber Haskell that investigators said the teen had in his possession 10 days after the shooting.

The Mendozas were found dead in their home at 708 Colonial Drive shortly after 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 5. Their 3-year-old son was found unharmed. Investigators have contended that rival gang members lived in the home in 2011 before the Mendozas lived there.

Investigators found dozens of shell casings from a .45-caliber handgun and a 7.62 mm rifle throughout the home, according to search warrants, and were able to tie Santillan and Vasquez to the weapons through an investigation into a Dec. 4 shooting on Meadowbrook Road in which a man had been shot in the ankle.

Jose Mendoza was shot 16 times in the head, chest and torso, and Maria Mendoza was shot seven times in the back, lower abdomen and legs, according to autopsy reports.