Sonoma County prosecutors said Monday they're holding the right man for a gang murder in Santa Rosa's South Park neighborhood almost two years ago.
And he has the tattoos to help prove it, they say.
Soon after 18-year-old Luis Suarez was gunned down on April 6, 2009, suspect Fernando Mendoza, 22, was sent on unrelated charges to Folsom state prison, where he picked up two incriminating pieces of body art.
One tattoo in the middle of his back says "N.K.", which a police Detective Andrew Riley testified at Mendoza's preliminary hearing stands for "Norteno killer." It has the N crossed out, indicating Mendoza, a member of the Angelino Heights surenos, dispatched a rival northerner, Suarez.
The other on Mendoza's left shoulder depicts a fractured northern star, further suggesting the wearer committed an assault or worse on a norteno adversary, Riley testified.
The fact that Mendoza had neither tattoo when he was stopped by police a month before the killing means he is "correctly charged" with murder, Riley said.
"Receiving a tattoo in custody means a lot," said Riley, a Santa Rosa Police Department gang expert.
Prosecutors initially charged Mendoza's cousin, then 17-year-old Marco Meza, who was arrested after bragging in a text message to a girl that he shot Suarez near Grand Avenue.
It turned out, the girl receiving the text message was Suarez's girlfriend, prosecutor Victoria Shanahan said.
Meza was arrested two days later along with Mendoza, who was found guilty of violating his probation for hanging out with a gang member and sent to prison, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Meza told police he had been lying about the killing and took credit to impress the girl. At the time, he said he was in Lake County with his sister and her boyfriend. Prosecutors charged Mendoza with the killing about six months later.
Mendoza's lawyer, Steve Turer, is contending that Meza is the killer. He accused the boyfriend, Jose Orozco, of lying to protect Meza.
During Orozco's testimony Monday, a Mendoza family member was removed from the courtroom for allegedly mouthing threats to Orozco. Prosecutors said the unnamed man mouthed "You are going to die" after Orozco said Mendoza admitted to him he was the killer.
Riley, the police gang expert, also testified about a letter Mendoza mailed from the county jail to another sureno member. It discussed gang business and was signed, "asesino," or assassin, Riley said.