A Stanislaus County Superior Court judge last Thursday reinstated the criminal proceedings against the suspect accused of killing Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh during a Dec. 26 traffic stop.
The defendant, Paulo Virgen Mendoza, pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of Cpl. Singh.
His attorney, Stephen Foley, entered the not-guilty plea and also denied enhancements to the murder charge alleging that Mendoza used a firearm in the killing and acted with premeditation.
The case against Mendoza had been suspended since early January, when Foley told the court that he had doubt about his client’s mental competency to understand the charges against him and participate in his defense.
After Foley initially raised his doubts, which he said stemmed from a brief conversation with his client prior to Mendoza’s first court appearance, the issue became central in two subsequent hearings.
Three weeks after raising the question, Foley told the judge that his competency concerns had been satisfied and asked that the criminal proceedings resume.
But Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar, who is prosecuting the case, argued that once a question of mental competency has been raised the evaluation process must be completed. Proceeding with trial without reaching a finding of competency once doubts have been expressed may create grounds for appeal of a conviction, he noted.
Judge Cordova agreed with the prosecution and ordered a mental health evaluation of Mendoza - which Foley later argued had been done in violation of his client’s right to due process.
Earlier last week, the doctor’s report was again central to the courtroom discussion.
Cordova expressed worries that holding a competency hearing in open court would reveal details of the doctor’s report which may cause issues with the case and violate Mendoza’s attorney-client privilege. He offered to rule on Mendoza’s competency based on the doctor’s report, without discussion, to avoid divulging problematic details. But Foley declined, saying he had concerns with the doctor’s report.
But on Thursday, he said he had reconsidered, and told the judge that he was willing to accept the doctor’s report without discussion on the mental health evaluation.
Cordova then told the court that, based on the report, he found the defendant competent to stand trial.
He scheduled a pre-trial hearing for May 24.
While the case is eligible, prosecutors have not yet announced whether they will pursue the death penalty.
Mendoza is accused of shooting Cpl. Singh during a traffic stop in the early morning hours of Dec. 26 at Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue.
An extensive manhunt followed the officer’s murder, and Mendoza was taken into custody 55 hours later in the Bakersfield area. Authorities said they believe he was trying to flee to Mexico in the wake of the murder.
He is being held without bail in the Stanislaus County Jail.
Seven other individuals face charges in Stanislaus and Kern counties in conjunction with the case. They are charged with aiding Mendoza after Cpl. Singh’s killing.