Good morning court watchers,
This is John Ensslin, legal affairs reporter for The Gazette, coming to you live this morning from Division 5, where opening statements are scheduled today in the first-degree murder trial of Martin Mendiola.
Mendiola, 40, was arrested in December 2009 in the January 2004 murder of a Colorado Springs woman whose body was found in a mobile home with her throat slashed. Her unharmed infant child was found nearby.
Investigators arrested Mendiola days before he was to be released from prison after they said his DNA matched evidence found at the crime scene.
Deputy District Attorney Joe LeDonne begins with his opening statement.
“This was a senseless and brutal murder,” he begins. “Patricia Gonzalez-Arvizu did not deserve to die.”
“She wanted to live,” he continued. “She wanted to protect Pedro Jr.” her 16-month-old son.
LeDonne said Mendiola came to the 29-year-old victim’s home to rape her. The phone lines to the home were cut.
At one point, she grabbed a cell phone and tried to call her husband. She was one digit off on the call.
That’s when Mendiola stabbed her, the prosecutor said.
“He stabbed her one, two, three, four, five, six times.” he said. “And he cut her throat.”
“This was no accident. This was not an act of self-defense,” LeDonne said. “He (Mendiola) did not want her to tell and he made sure she was silenced forever.”
LeDonne said police investigated several leads, but all of those people ultimately were cleared.
But then they focused on Mendiola, who had worked with the victim in a cleaning crew whole working under a false name.
His DNA matched semen found in Gonzalez-Arvizu’s body, LeDonne said.
Police went to interview Mendiola in prison, where he was nearing the end of serving a sentence for an unrelated conviction.
“When they interviewed him, he denied even knowing the victim,” LeDonne said. Mendiola also denied having sex with her.
“The defendant got away with it for almost six years,” LeDonne concluded. “Do not let him get away with it.”
The Defense case
Deputy Public Defender Dennis McGuire begins making the opening statement for Mendiola’s defense.
Patricia’s family deserves justice,” he began. “But they’re not going to get it in this trial.”
Mendiola had a sexual relationship with the victim, McGuire told the jury of 7 men and 7 women.
But his client did not rape or kill her, McGuire said.
Jan. 26, 2004 was a cold day. It has snowed the night before. The temperature hovered around 19 degrees, McGuire said.
Mendiola, who worked on a crew that painted homes, got a called from his supervisor telling him it was too cold to work that day.
So instead, Mendiola went to the mobile home in the 1000 block of Garner Street, where he had sex with Gonzalez-Arvizu and then left, McGuire said.
Mendiola first heard about her slaying the next day when he went to work, McGuire said.
McGuire said jurors will hear about a fingerprint that police found on the cell phone that they have not been able to match with anyone.
“Whose ever finger print that was also took the time to cut the phone cord,” the defense attorney said.
McGuire said investigators also examined several cups found in the sink that were not there when the victim’s husband left for work that day.
One item, a McDonald’s coffee cup, had lipstick and male DNA that could not be linked to anyone, McGuire said.
When confronted by police six years later, Mendiola tried to distance himself by not reveal his relationship with the victim, McGuire said.
“He did not want to be accused of a murder he did not commit,” McGuire said. “He knew he was one of the last people to see her alive.”
“Closure for the family is important,” McGuire concluded. But so is making sure that justice is served. He asked the jurors to find his client not guilty.
The first witness is El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux, who described the wounds he documented in an autopsy of the victim.
Bux described several wounds to Gonzalez-Arvizu’s chest. But the slashing of her throat was a fatal wound. She would have died quickly after it was done, he said.
Suddenly, a female juror has fainted in the jury box. Fourth Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz declared a recess. The judge, Bux and several deputies check on the woman, who revived and appears to be OK.
I’ll end this live blog here for now.