Judge denies release to 7 indicted in connection with officer killing
Four people connected to the man accused of killing a Newman police officer were denied release from custody Friday – the same day they, along with three others, were indicted by a grand jury.
A federal grand jury issued an indictment against the seven people accused of aiding Paulo Virgen Mendoza, an undocumented immigrant, after he allegedly gunned down Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh during a traffic stop Dec. 26.
They have been identified as Erik Razo Quiroz, 29, of Merced; Adrian Virgen Mendoza, 25, of Fairfield; Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, of Chowchilla; Erasmo Villegas Suarez, 36, of Buttonwillow; Ana Leydi Cervantes Sanchez, 31, of Newman; Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 59, of Lamont; and his wife, Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, also of Lamont.
All seven were charged with conspiring to hide Mendoza and helping him evade authorities, and making plans to smuggle him back to Mexico.
Quiroz was accused of disposing of the gun allegedly used by Mendoza to kill Singh. Quiroz faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he is found guilty of the firearm offense, according to the indictment announcement by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott.
If convicted of the conspiracy charges, all seven face five years in prison and fines of $250,000.
The indictment was made public hours before scheduled court appearances in downtown Fresno by four of the seven. Villegas The detention hearing for Castaneda, Moreno and Suarez had been continued from Tuesday because Magistrate Sheila K. Oberto had expressed doubts about releasing them.
Oberto ultimately denied release, however. She said there was a flight risk with all three. In deciding to keep them in custody, Oberto said all three were untruthful with authorities and willingly helped Mendoza attempt to evade authorities despite knowing Mendoza had allegedly killed the officer.
Moreno fell to the ground when Oberto completed her statements Friday. Moreno was picked up from the floor by a U.S. Marshal and she limped and sobbed as she was taken away in tears.
Family had been present in case the judge had granted release to any of the defendants.
A short time later, Oberto also heard arguments to release a fourth defendant, Ana Leydi Cervantes Sanchez, the girlfriend of Mendoza.
She entered the courtroom with U.S. Marshals, and sat shackled and teary-eyed as defense attorney John Meyer argued for her release. Meyer, speaking to Oberto, stated the conditions that Sanchez’s family was willing to follow if she was released to them. Sanchez’s brother, sister-inlaw and two other family members were present in court.
But Oberto denied releasing Sanchez, too. Prosecutor Escobar reported to the judge that Sanchez was a “significant flight risk” and that there was little record of her being in the country other than once, having applied for political asylum.
Meyer said the asylum
request was due to Sanchez’s fears of violence against her if she returned to her home state of Michoacan, Mexico. He said that her husband, whom she married eight years ago, was kidnapped and killed before she left for the United States.
That wasn’t enough to convince the judge. Oberto said Sanchez made false statements to law enforcement, provided a change of clothes for Mendoza and witnessed attempts by others to conceal Mendoza’s truck following the shooting of the police officer.
Sanchez reportedly told law enforcement that she provided a change of clothes for her boyfriend because “she loves him,” according to statements read in court by Oberto.
The judge also wasn’t convinced of releasing Sanchez since Escobar said Sanchez failed to report that she had moved to Newman after applying for asylum. Her residence on file was in the San Diego area.
Oberto noted family ties to Mexico for all four defendants who appeared in court Friday. And she stated that, had she released them, none had the ability to find employment since they were in the country illegally.
The three other men who were indicted, Mendoza’s brothers Conrado Virgen Mendoza and Adrian Virgen, along with Erik Razo Quiroz, were all denied release as well during this week’s detention hearings. Mendoza’s brothers are accused of transporting him following the shooting. Quiroz is accused of getting rid of the weapon and concealing Mendoza’s truck.
All seven are expected to return to court Jan. 29 to be arraigned on the charges.