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Key witness refuses to testify in Santa Rosa gang killing case

A Lake County man who told police his cousin was responsible for a Santa Rosa gang killing refused to testify Tuesday in a Sonoma County courtroom and was charged with contempt.

Marco Meza, 19 of Kelseyville, was called to testify in a preliminary hearing for Fernando Mendoza, 22, who is accused of gunning down 18-year-old Luis Suarez on a South Park neighborhood street in 2009.

Meza had previously told police that Mendoza, a member of a criminal street gang, pointed to a newspaper headline the day after the killing and announced "That's the fool I shot right there."

But when he was offered immunity from prosecution to repeat his story in court, he refused, possibly out of fear that he would be targeted by the gang.

"I'm not going to testify," said Meza as Mendoza looked on in silence from the defense table. "No disrespect."

After several warnings, Judge Ken Gnoss gave Meza a chance to consult with his lawyer, Jonathan Steele, before finding him in contempt of court. He can be held in custody until he agrees to testify or the hearing is over.

Meza was being held in custody in Lake County in connection with an assault that authorities say occurred the day before the Suarez slaying. Under the grant of immunity, nothing Meza might have said in court could have been used against him, Gnoss said.

"Obviously there are other reasons for an individual to choose not to testify," Steele said outside the courtroom.

The hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to prosecute Mendoza, who is charged with the drive-by shooting of Suarez on April 6, 2009 after a confrontation about gang status.

Police said Mendoza approached Suarez near Grand Avenue, asked what gang he was in and shot him with a .38 caliber pistol as Suarez ran away. He then stood over the wounded former Ridgway High student and fired three more bullets into his torso, police testified.


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