State drops charges in DeLand murder case involving Mexican brothers

By LYDA LONGA, Staff report

June 13, 2012 12:25 AM

Pedro Mendez

After four years of searching for murder suspect Pedro Jose Mendez, DeLand detectives finally found their man last December.

But the murder charges against Mendez for his brother's death were dropped Monday because the sole witness in the case is too afraid to testify and refused to travel here from Mexico, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The strange circumstances surrounding the case hinge on the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affords defendants a speedy trial, the defense and prosecution said.

This also was a case that had no forensic evidence, according to police, and depended solely on the testimony of one man.

In addition, while Mendez no longer has a murder charge hanging over him, he is still in jail -- on hold for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he is an illegal alien.

According to Assistant Public Defender Matt Phillips, Monday was the deadline for Mendez's trial to begin under the speedy trial clause. But when the witness backed out -- he went back to Mexico some time ago -- and Circuit Judge Margaret Hudson saw no possible way to persuade him to travel here, the charges were dismissed against Mendez.

Phillips and Assistant State Attorney Ed Davis both agreed that the case and its disposition are unique.

"She (the judge) said Mendez was 'forever discharged from this case,' " Phillips said, noting that in his 22-year career, he had never experienced such an outcome in a murder case.

DeLand police said Mendez vanished in April 2007 after he shot his 30-year-old brother David Boyso Mendez during an argument the morning of April 22, 2007. Detectives later learned that Mendez -- now 48 -- had gone back to Mexico.
Last December, though, investigators caught a break when a tipster called in, saying Mendez was at a mobile home park in DeLand.

Mendez was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Since December, he had been in custody at the Volusia County Branch Jail awaiting trial.
The suspect, however, would not waive his right to a speedy trial.

Generally, defense attorneys waive their client's right to a speedy trial so they can have more time to prepare their case, Phillips said. But in this instance, Mendez and Phillips refused to waive that right because there was no evidence to pore over and no witnesses to depose.

By law, a speedy trial must occur within 175 days after an arrest is made. Under that stipulation, the trial would have been scheduled for the middle of May, Phillips said. When the prosecution still could not produce its sole witness by that time, Phillips filed a notice of expiration of speedy trial.

The law, however, affords the prosecution a final shot by allowing a final 15 days to have the trial. That period ended Monday.

Phillips said the prosecution was still confident last Friday that the witness would testify. But by Saturday morning, things had changed.

"The state called me Saturday and told me he (the witness) missed two flights," Phillips said.

The witness lives in a remote village in the state of Zacatecas in north central Mexico, Phillips and Davis said. He is about an hour away from the closest telephone.

"We made extensive travel arrangements," Davis said. "He was afraid of something happening to his family if he testified (in a murder trial.) He was getting a lot of pressure from his family (to not testify.)"

Disagreeing with that assessment, Phillips said the real reason is because the witness may have not seen Mendez commit the murder at all.

"As soon as I got the discovery material (in the case), it was all about this individual who may or may not have seen the shooting," Phillips said. "I think the reason he didn't want to come here is because he didn't want to have to say that he never witnessed the murder."

DeLand police Lt. Jack Waples said no evidence was ever obtained in the investigation and "the entire case was based on witness testimony."
"Between DeLand police and the State Attorney's Office, everything that could possibly be done, was done," Waples said Tuesday. "But because of circumstances beyond their control, the situation had to be dropped.

Davis said his office is working with Customs and Immigration to have Mendez deported.
State drops charges in DeLand murder case involving Mexican brothers - News