Crime

Man testifies that he drove accused gunmen to Garner duplex

Moises Reyes testifies in the trial of Jonathan Santillan Thursday at the Wake County Justice Center in Raleigh. Santillan is accused of murdering a couple in Garner. Investigators contend the couple were the unintended victims in rival gang warfare.
Moises Reyes testifies in the trial of Jonathan Santillan Thursday at the Wake County Justice Center in Raleigh. Santillan is accused of murdering a couple in Garner. Investigators contend the couple were the unintended victims in rival gang warfare. clowenst@newsobserver.com

When two masked gunmen entered the home of Jose Samual Flores Mendoza and his wife, Maria Saravia Mendoza, early one January morning in 2013, their intention was to scare two people from testifying in a pending Wake County assault case, a key witness for the prosecution testified Thursday.

Moises Reyes, 21, claims to have driven Jonathan Santillan, 17, and Israel Vasquez, 18, to the couple’s home at 708 Colonial Drive near Garner on Jan. 5, 2013. Santillan and Vasquez are accused of murdering the Mendozas and leaving their two sons orphans in what prosecutors have described as a case of mistaken identity.

Jeff Cutler, the defense attorney for Santillan, told jurors in his opening statement to listen to the testimony of Reyes, the only witness who would put his client at the scene of the crime, and listen for inconsistencies in the many accounts of that January night and early morning that he provided to police two years ago.

From the witness stand Thursday, Reyes recounted for prosecutors a fight between rival gangs that occurred on a Garner street in December 2012.

Reyes said his brother’s shirt had been pulled up over his head during the fight in a way that immobilized his arms. Reyes had a .380-caliber handgun with him that he had bought in Durham, he said, so he stepped in and put the butt of the pistol to the head of the man fighting his brother, Pablo.

“I felt like I needed to intervene,” he said.

That fight, prosecutors contend, led to the shooting nearly a month later at the Colonial Drive duplex.

Reyes, who has been charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, testified Thursday in an orange and white jail jumpsuit, his legs shackled.

Reyes said he picked up Santillan and Vasquez on Jan. 4, 2013, after receiving a text from Santillan suggesting they go after David “Sancho” Gonzalez and Juan “Hamburguesa” Hernandez, hoping to scare them from testifying against Reyes’ brother Pablo, or “Trigger” as he also was known.

Pablo Reyes was incarcerated in the Wake County jail on the chilly January morning that the shootings occurred.

Reyes said the three went to the Colonial Drive duplex, thinking they were going to a place where Gonzalez would be. What they didn’t know, prosecutors contend, is that Gonzalez had moved out and the Mendozas had moved in.

Reyes described picking up Santillan and Vasquez from a dirt path near the home of Santillan. Santillan’s mother did not like Reyes visiting, and according to one account that Reyes gave to police, sometimes called law enforcement on him if he came to the door.

When they got to Colonial Drive, Reyes said he watched Santillan and Vasquez pull on dark ski masks then move toward the duplex door. Reyes said they went to the home with the intent of scaring and “simple-fighting” the two who had been in the fight with his brother.

“I wanted to scare them so they wouldn’t testify against my brother,” Reyes said.

The gunmen sprayed at least 40 shots inside the home, said David Saacks, an assistant Wake County district attorney. Jose Mendoza was shot 16 times; Maria Mendoza, seven times.

Reyes said he waited in his truck parked in the street. He told officers in one of three interviews after the homicide that he heard a small child crying.

Jacob, the Mendoza’s 3-year-old boy, was home when the shooting occurred and was found crying on top of his father’s lifeless body.

Defense questions

In cross-examination, defense attorney Cutler asked many questions, probing inconsistencies in various accounts that Reyes offered.

Pablo Reyes had not been charged in the December assault before the homicides, Cutler pointed out, so there was no reason Gonzalez or Hernandez would testify against him.

Cutler also questioned where Moises Reyes got some of the details about what happened inside the duplex when he said earlier in the day that neither Santillan nor Valasquez had provided much detail on the ride home.

Reyes’ testimony was interrupted at one point because questions arose about the wisdom of his not having his attorney present during the cross-examination.

On Jan. 15, 2013, according to testimony on Thursday, sheriff’s deputies went to the home of Israel Vasquez and found the then-16-year-old on a chair in a locked closet and Santillan hiding in the attic.

Investigators removed a cache of weapons and boxes of ammunition from the attic.

It was not until several months later that Reyes and his brother were questioned about the Mendoza killings.

By that time, Cutler pointed out, Moises Reyes knew he had been implicated in the shootings by Santillan.

Reyes also acknowledged that though prosecutors had not offered him a plea deal before testifying at the trial on Thursday, he hoped his testimony would lead to one.

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