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Santa Rosa gang-slaying suspect faces murder trial

  • 4/11/2009: A1: Victim: Luis Suarez: Died at the shooting scene in South Park area.

    4/8/2009: A1: Luis Suarez

    PC: Luis Suarez, in a family photo, killed Monday night in a drive-by shooting on Grand Avenue in Santa Rosa.

A judge Wednesday ruled that a 22-year-old Santa Rosa man should face charges he gunned down a rival gang member during a confrontation on a South Park neighborhood street.

Fernando Flores Mendoza can be tried for first-degree murder and participation in a gang in the April 6, 2009 slaying of former Ridgway High student Luis Suarez, 18.

Judge Ken Gnoss made the ruling after a preliminary hearing in which witnesses testified Mendoza claimed credit for the killing. Suarez was shot four times after "mad-dogging" or staring at Mendoza, who had been driving by him in a car, detectives said.

One police witness said Mendoza stood over Suarez after he wounded him with the first shot and fired three more bullets into his torso.

Gnoss agreed to lift contempt charges against Mendoza's cousin, Marco Meza, 19, of Kelseyville, who told police of Mendoza's involvement but refused to testify in court under a grant of immunity. Prosecutor Victoria Shanahan determined his previous police statements were sufficient.

Mendoza, who remains in custody, will appear in court Jan. 7 for possible setting of a trial date.

At the hearing, which began in November and ended with Tuesday's ruling, detectives testified they initially suspected Meza. A day after the killing, he bragged in a text-message to a girl that "I shot that fool."

It turned out, the girl was Suarez's girlfriend. Meza recanted after his arrest, pointing to Mendoza, whom he said had given him the details the morning after the shooting. Other witnesses corroborated Meza's alibi — that he was involved in another gang confrontation in Lake County at the time.

Prosecutors charged Mendoza about six months after Saurez' death. In the meantime, the Sureno gang member was sent to prison on an unrelated offense and received two incriminating tattoos, a Santa Rosa police gang expert testified.

One stands for "Norteno killer" and another depicts a fractured northern star. Both tattoos suggest he assaulted or killed a rival Norteno gang member, such as Suarez, a gang expert testified.

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