Special Reports

Mendez-Reyna admits guilt in killings

Saying he wanted the truth told, Pedro Mendez-Reyna pleaded guilty Friday to having murdered five men and wounding another in a Pasco auto body shop in 1987.

Prosecutor Dennis DeFelice had been seeking the death penalty for Mendez-Reyna, 31, but agreed to a sen tence of life without possibility of release in exchange for the guilty pleas.

Franklin County Superior Court Judge Duane Taber also sentenced him to 20 years for a charge of attempted murder.

The sentences will run consecutively, Taber said.

Killed in the shooting were Rafael Magallon, Francisco Cortez, Eliceo Lamas, Juan Antonio Garcia and Misael Barajas. Aldo Montes-Lamas, who was known as Jessie Rocio at the time of the shooting, survived with a bullet wound to his right side.

"Although the defendant's story is not entirely satisfactory, he has pleaded guilty to these horrible crimes and has shown some remorse," DeFelice said. "If ever there was a reason not to impose the death penalty, this is one of those to be considered."

Mendez-Reyna, who was dressed in a black suit and had his black hair slicked back, took the witness stand Friday to explain how he and his cousin Vicente Ruiz, who has not been apprehended, gunned down the men at Medina's auto body shop on Oct. 13, 1987.

The two went to the shop after Ruiz had told Mendez-Reyna that he had been confronted earlier in the day by six men at a Pasco restaurant, and that some of the men had displayed guns.

Montes-Lamas, who worked at the shop, was one of the men at the restaurant, Mendez-Reyna said.

However, Montes-Lamas, the only survivor of the shooting, said in court Friday that neither he nor any of the men killed in the shop had been at the restaurant that day. "That's a lie," Montes-Lamas said.

The motive for the men going to the shop was not drug-related, as had been reported at one time, Mendez-Reyna said. DeFelice said investigators also never found clear evidence that drugs were involved.

Mendez-Reyna said he thought he and Ruiz were going over to the shop so Ruiz could fight Montes-Lamas. "At the time, I was there only to hold the others back while (Ruiz) was going to fight this guy," he said.

Mendez-Reyna and Ruiz walked in the shop and talked to two mechanics. "My cousin said he wanted (the mechanics) to leave because he had a problem with this Jessie guy," Mendez-Reyna said. Mendez-Reyna, Ruiz and the mechanics left the shop.

After going to their car, Mendez-Reyna and Ruiz went back into the shop.

This time, Ruiz carried a .38 Special in one hand and a .357-caliber handgun in the other, while Mendez-Reyna toted a Mini-14 rifle. It was mostly dark and hard to see in the shop, Mendez-Reyna said.

The gunmen rounded up the six men, who had been in two different rooms at the shop. They were herded into one small room.

"I didn't hear much. They started yelling. The only thing I heard was my cousin, who told them he was going to do what they did to him at the restaurant," Mendez-Reyna said.

Mendez-Reyna said he then heard a shot.

"I opened fire because (Ruiz) told me they all had guns," Mendez-Reyna said, his voice beginning to quaver. "I didn't know where the shot came from. I later found out it was my cousin."

DeFelice asked Mendez-Reyna how many times he fired the rifle.

"I didn't exactly count," Mendez-Reyna answered. "When something like this happens, it's like your mind is blank and you can't see nothing for a while." Montes-Lamas survived the shooting by diving under a car. He was grazed by a bullet on his right side, but said Friday he doesn't remember if it happened before or after he crawled under the car.

Mendez-Reyna said he saw Montes-Lamas dive under the car.

"I didn't want to kill anymore, but because my cousin was there, I shot a couple of shots into the floor," Mendez-Reyna said. "One may have ricocheted and hit him."

Montes-Lamas disputed Mendez-Reyna's account of the murders.

It wasn't dark in the shop, he said. "It was as light as it is here," Montes-Lamas said while standing in the courtroom."

Montes-Lamas also claimed that Mendez-Reyna fired the first shot. "He knew he started it," Montes-Lamas said. "Everyone had a bullet from his rifle."

Pasco police Sgt. Mike Monroe tes tified that all five victims had been shot by a .223-caliber bullet from Mendez-Reyna's rifle. Two of the victims also had been hit by either one of the handguns Ruiz was holding.

Mendez-Reyna and Ruiz drove to Reno, then flew to Los Angeles, shortly after the shooting. He left behind a wife, whom he had married when he was 20, and a son, who is now 8. The two men eventually headed for Colima, Mexico, where Mendez-Reyna was born. While there he married another woman, and he and that wife, Esperanza, have three children, ages 6, 4 and 2.

In 1993, Mendez-Reyna brought his family back to the United States.

"In a way, I was coming back because I wanted to take care of this matter," he said. "Sometimes, I thought about going back (to Pasco) to settle this, but I didn't have the courage because of my children."

Linda Edmiston, one of two attorneys appointed to represent Mendez- Reyna, said her client was willing to take responsibility for the murder immediately after being arrested July 4, 1993, in McAllen, Texas.

He made a full confession to police at the time of his arrest, she said.

"He wanted to die for the families (of his victims)," Edmiston said.

Mendez-Reyna agreed to plead guilty in March, after spending hours reviewing more than 750 pages of court documents with his attorneys, Edmiston said.

It wasn't until Thursday that the agreement between Mendez-Reyna's attorneys and the prosecutor's office was completed, DeFelice said.