A man who lived in the duplex next door to Jose Samuel Flores Mendoza and Maria Saravia Mendoza was awakened on Jan. 5, 2013, to a loud noise and the scary crumbling of a wall dividing the two Garner homes.
Patrocinio Puerta Ramierez got up shortly after midnight and rushed into the room of his 9-year-old son, whose bed was about a foot from the wall separating them from a violent scene next door.
Ramierez testified in the second day of the trial of Jonathan Santillan, one of two teens accused of murdering Jose and Maria Saravia Mendoza.
In Spanish, through a court interpreter, Ramierez told the six men and six women on the jury that will decide Santillan’s fate that the commotion next door continued for about five minutes.
Ramierez covered up his son with his body to protect him and waited fearfully for the noise to stop.
Then after hearing a car speed away from the duplexes at 708 and 710 Colonial Drive near Garner and more silence, Ramierez walked outside and heard the sound of a child crying.
He peeked through the open door of the duplex next door and saw 3-year-old Jacob, the younger son of the Mendozas, on top of his lifeless father crying. Later, after another neighbor cuddled the boy in her arms, sheltering him from the cold, Ramierez went inside his home and brought out a comforter for the young child.
Investigators say two gunmen – wearing masks, hairnets and gloves – burst into the Mendoza home shortly after midnight on that January morning, looking for a rival gang member.
The gang member, prosecutors contend, had moved out of 710 Colonial Drive, where the Mendozas lived, more than a year before the couple moved there with their family.
The Mendozas had moved to this country from El Salvador almost 15 years earlier to escape violence in their native Central America.
They found work at a Golden Corral and each worked in the kitchen. Prosecutors say the husband and wife worked different shifts so one could be home to care for their children – Jacob, who is now 6, and Jorge, now 15.
Jorge, according to his mother’s brother, was spending the night outside the home on the night of the violence.
Carlos Saravia Nativi, Jorge’s uncle, testified Wednesday that Jorge was planning to help him cook food early in the morning for nearly 70 people planning to gather later that day at their church.
That day, though, Jorge and his younger brother became orphans, who now are cared for by their mother’s uncle and sister.
Fight in the street
“We were told somebody has gone into her house ... that they had murdered them,” Nativi testified in Spanish.
Israel Vasquez, almost a year older than Santillan, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, is also accused of murder in the case.
Jose Mendoza was found dead, shot 16 times, wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV. Assistant District Attorney David Saacks said in his opening statement on Tuesday that Jose Mendoza had worked the closing shift at the Golden Corral that night and come home shortly before midnight, hungry and cold from the winter temperatures.
Maria Saravia Mendoza, Saacks said, was found dead at the stove, where prosecutors say she was cooking a late-night meal for her husband.
The gunmen who burst through the door, according to Saacks, fired “some 40-odd shots” from at least two guns, a .45-caliber handgun and a 7.62 mm rifle.
The trial, two days in, has offered a portrait of two very different lifestyles – families working hard and long hours to support each other and children and teens who lived nearby identifying as gang members.
With several witnesses Wednesday, prosecutors tried to outline details of an altercation before the January shooting that led to the killing of the mistaken targets.
One witness testified about two gangs who mingled in the Garner area – one he described as VDM or “Very Dangerous Mexicans” and another as a splinter group of “Sur 13.”
To get into the gangs, said David Gonzalez, also known as “Sancho,” people had to fight off three attackers for 31 seconds, a play on the 13 seconds required by “Sur 13.”
The fight that precipitated the January violence, prosecutors contend, was rooted in a pistol whipping and altercation in December near the Mendoza home.
Gonzalez, who used to live at the Mendoza address, was the one who contacted the sheriff’s office a day after the Mendoza shooting to tell authorities he thought his life was in danger because of an altercation with another gang member.
That call led to the arrest of Vasquez and Santillan, who also were charged in a shooting a month before the murders that wounded one man in the ankle. Ballistic tests linked the two shootings.