Despite an emotional plea from the widow of slain Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh to move the murder case against her husband’s accused killer forward, no trial date for Paulo Virgen Mendoza was set during a court hearing on the matter last Thursday.
Mendoza was originally scheduled to go to trial Sept. 1, but the trial has been postponed.
Defense and prosecution attorneys were at odds in the hearing before Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova last week.
Stanislaus County Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira expressed concerns that delays in the case could lead to key witnesses being deported before the trial begins.
Defense attorney Stephen Foley, though, argued that he needs more time to fully prepare a defense for Mendoza.
Singh was shot and killed during a traffic stop in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, 2018. Mendoza was arrested 55 hours later in the Bakersfield area, as he was allegedly attempting to flee to Mexico.
Singh’s widow, Anamika Singh, spoke to the court Thursday.
“We are still sitting here today waiting for justice,” she told the court, saying that she and the family seek closure in the case.
She has taken time off work to attend court hearings, which Singh said feels “like it is opening the wound over and over again.”
Since her husband’s death, Singh said, she has not attended family functions or celebrated the birthdays of the couple’s son, who was an infant when his father was killed.
Singh said that she does not want their son to be in school when the case goes to trial.
“The justice system is failing” her husband, she told the court. “Please move this forward.”
But no decision was reached on a trial date.
Ferreira said time is of the essence because two key witnesses in the case, Adrian Virgen Mendoza, Paulo Mendoza’s brother, and Erik Quiroz Razo, a co-worker of Paulo Mendoza’s are subject to deportation.
David Olaya, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security, told the court that Adrian Mendoza and Razo have completed their federal sentences for aiding Paulo Mendoza after the killing and upon release from federal prison were immediately subject to deportation.
But, he said, the deportation action has now been deferred through March 21, 2021.
Further deferrals could be requested, Olaya testified, but it is his understanding that they will not be approved.
He said that, if the witnesses are deported or voluntarily return to Mexico there is an avenue to bring them back to the United States for the sole purpose of testifying. The agent acknowledged, though, that the witnesses cannot be compelled to return to testify.
Potential trial dates were discussed.
Cordova at one point suggested January 2022 as a starting date for trial, allowing Foley ample time to prepare his defense.
Ferreira, however, said that she does not believe Homeland Security will defer the deportation of witnesses that long.
She suggested starting the trial in a March to June time frame next spring, saying she believes that Homeland Security will extend the deferral under those circumstances.
“If we go (past) that, I believe that we lose our witnesses,” Ferreira stated.
If the witnesses return to Mexico, she said, even finding them to begin the process of arranging their testimony could be extremely difficult.
The availability of witnesses is crucial not only to the prosecution but to the defense as well, Ferreira noted.
A third witness mentioned in the hearing was Conrado Mendoza, another brother of Paulo Mendoza.
Olaya indicated in his testimony that Conrado Mendoza is still awaiting sentencing for assisting Paulo Mendoza.
Cordova suggested setting a June 1 date for the trial to begin, but Foley said he would object to that date.
The defense attorney told the court that he will need time to prepare his case, which he said will in part require travel to Mexico to conduct in-person interviews and investigation.
Restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have hampered his mitigation investigation, Foley added.
His priority, Foley emphasized, is “to ensure that Mr. Mendoza gets a fair trial.”
Ferreira, however, said that the same investigative avenues which prosecutors have used in the case are also available to the defense.
As time has gone on, Ferreira said, “we keep hearing the same arguments” from the defense.
The nature of the case mandates that it be given top priority, Ferreira said in arguing for a speedy trial.
A trial date is expected to be set during a court hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26.