Friday, February 12, 2016
High Court Says Killer Was Competent, Upholds Death Sentence in Murders of Wife’s Relatives
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a man who killed his estranged wife’s mother and cousin, along with a man she was dating.
In an opinion by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the court said there was sufficient evidence of Huber Mendoza’s competence to stand trial. The justices also held that Mendoza’s subsequent absence from portions of his trial was harmless even if, as the defendant claimed, he was suffering from mental illness that prevented him from making a competent choice to absent himself from the courtroom.
A Stanislaus Superior Court jury found Mendoza competent to stand trial for the murders of Alicia Martinez, Carlos Lopez, and Carmillo (Camarino) Chavez, and of shooting at an occupied building and assault with a firearm on sister-in-law Guadalupe Martinez, with special circumstances of multiple murder.
Guadalupe Martinez survived the shooting and testified at the trial. Cindi Martinez, who subsequently divorced the defendant, testified as well, and ballistics evidence and items seized from the defendant’s van and residence were introduced.
After the competence verdict, a separate jury tried the rest of the case and found Mendoza guilty of all charges. After the guilt phase, the same jury found him to be sane at the time of the offenses.
The witnesses testified that Mendoza came to the house in a bulletproof vest, helmet and camouflage pants and with three semiautomatic firearms. After breaking a window, he entered the house and shot the victims in separate rooms, telling Chavez “you should not have messed around with a married woman.”
The defense argued on appeal that was no substantial evidence from which the defendant should have been found competent to stand trial. It cited his extreme preoccupation with religion, to which he referred repeatedly in his evaluations by psychiatrists, even when they attempted to persuade him to focus on matters relevant to the competence determination.
The chief justice, however, noted that a prosecution expert, who had conducted over 100 such evaluations, did not find Mendoza’s religious fixation to be particularly unusual. Rather, Dr. Gary Cavanaugh found, such preoccupation was often found in persons facing trial for serious crimes. Cantil-Sakauye went on to reject the argument that Mendoza’s absence from the courtroom was grounds for per se reversal. The fact that he was out of the courtroom during a portion of the testimony, the chief justice said, “does not mean that his absence…necessarily affected the whole framework within the trial proceeded…or that any error defies analysis for prejudice.”
The case is People v. Mendoza, 16 S.O.S. 803.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company