Special Reports

Suspect in hands of God, mom says

She has spent the past six years praying for her son.

Now Evangelina Reyna, mother of mass murder suspect Pedro Reyna Mendez, says she has left her son's future in the hands of God.

"When I received the call telling me my son had been arrested, the first thing I did was give thanks to God. The last thing I wanted was to one day receive a call telling me that my son's body was found thrown on a dirt road somewhere," the Sunnyside woman said Tuesday.

Her soft voice quivered, her eyes welled with tears, and she tightly clasped her hands as she spoke in Spanish of her son.

Reyna sat in the lobby of the Franklin County Jail with another son from Sunnyside, Mendez's wife and their three children from Pasco as they waited to visit the suspect in the Tri-Cities' worst mass killing.

Earlier, Mendez, 31, appeared in Franklin County Superior Court where he's facing charges in connection with the Oct. 13, 1987, shootings of six men in a Pasco auto body shop. Only one man survived.

Mendez's cousin, Vicente Mendez Ruiz, also has been charged in connection with the slayings, but he remains at large.

Tuesday, Mendez pleaded innocent to five counts of aggravated first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault.

He is being held without bail in the Franklin County Jail and has a Sept. 22 trial date.

Prosecutor Dennis DeFelice has 30 days to decide if he will seek the death penalty.

During that time, Mendez is prohibited from pleading guilty without permission from DeFelice.

Linda Edmiston, Mendez's court-appointed attorney, said the 30-day restriction set by state law gives DeFelice time to consider the penalty and protects Mendez from pleading guilty while faced with an uncertain punishment.

After Tuesday's hearing, Mendez was quickly escorted back to jail under heavy guard, unaware his family members were en route to try to see him.

Reyna said she last saw her son about two years ago, when she visited in Colima, Mexico. She said the family has not seen Vicente Mendez Ruiz in the past six years.

Both men disappeared after the killings of Rafael Parra Magallon, Francisco Cortez, Eliceo Lamas, Juan Antonio Garcia and Misael Barajas. Aldo Montes-Lamas was shot but survived by hiding under a car.

While Reyna had not yet seen her son since his July 4 arrest in McAllen, Texas, she said he had called her from jail before he was brought to Pasco late Sunday.

"We know he has done wrong. The only thing I always prayed to God was that he would give him time to repent," she said.

"He called me, and the first thing he asked me was not to worry. He said, 'I could no longer bear this burden that I was carrying. I was tired. Now I'm tranquil and happy. I have strong faith in God, and I know he has forgiven me. Now I will wait for what he has in store for me.' That gave me much happiness," she said.

Reyna said she tried to raise her son to have strong faith in God. "I think he does, and if you know anything about the Bible, you know that sometimes the devil tempts you to do things. That's what happened," she said. "Even those that knew him as a child keep telling me that he couldn't possibly have done all this."

She said her strong faith in God has kept her going. "I have prepared myself for whatever God wants. Now, all we can do is wait."