Two Santa Rosa teens facing potential life sentences in a fatal shooting during a 2011 bar fight took plea deals Friday that permit them to serve significantly less time in prison in exchange for admitting to killing one man and injuring another.
Jose Campos-Mendoza, 18, is to be sentenced to 21 years and four months in prison in return for his pleas of "no contest" to voluntary manslaughter and assault charges Friday for the fatal Dec. 3, 2011, shooting of Christopher "Beto" Medina, 23.
As part of his plea to three felony counts, he will have three strikes to his credit under California's Three Strikes law, attorneys said.
His co-defendant, Alfonso Ramirez-Mendoza, 19, faces a 12-year term when the two are sentenced July 23 by Judge Ken Gnoss. Authorities said it was Ramirez-Mendoza who pulled a semi-automatic handgun from under his shirt and handed it to Campos-Mendoza as long-running animosity between the parties erupted in alcohol-fueled violence.
Both are to serve 85 percent of their prison terms, minus about 1? years they already have served in jail since the shooting.
The teens had been charged with murder and the attempted murder of another man, Julian Loeza, 21, in shootings captured on surveillance video recovered from El Puente Cantina on Santa Rosa Avenue, where the bloodshed occurred.
Campos-Mendoza, who was only 17 when he killed Medina, was to be tried as an adult.
The murder charge, combined with enhancements and lesser offenses, exposed him to nearly 100 years to life in prison, attorneys said.
Ramirez-Mendoza faced about 40 years to life. Neither faced a high likelihood of ever being released from prison, defense attorney Mike Li said.
Opening arguments in their trial were scheduled for Friday.
But prosecutors confronted increasingly difficult challenges in proving their case because of uncooperative witnesses, including Loeza, for whom a court order had been issued because he had refused to appear as a witness, Deputy District Attorney Craig Brooks said.
A third victim, El Puente security guard Paul Harris, who also was targeted with gunfire, claimed to have suffered a heart condition during earlier court proceedings, and said he would not testify and was prepared to go to jail instead, Brooks said.
Brooks said he would have pursued the murder charges if his witnesses had cooperated.
"We had a very good case, when you consider the video," he said. "That's the sad thing. The video is very clear."
Defense attorneys disputed the value of the video, and Campos-Mendoza's lawyers saying the case was not as simple as it appeared on the surface.
"It was going to be a very difficult case," one of his attorneys, Rich Ingram said.
But defense lawyers unanimously acknowledged the relief their clients were experiencing being out from under the shadow of possible life imprisonment.
"I think the evidence was not great against my client," said Li, who represented Ramirez-Mendoza, "but he still was facing a life case."
Several of Medina's family members, who came to court for what they thought would be opening arguments in a prolonged trial, wore T-shirts bearing photos of the slain man and slogans like, "RIP Beto."
The man's mother was among those present and sat in the back of the courtroom weeping as the defendants pleaded to reduced charges.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here