SAFFORD — It appears that a jury will soon decide the fate of Jesus Manuel Mendez Jr.
Mendez, 19, and his defense team, led by attorneys Felicia Bermudez and David Thorn, were unable to come to a plea agreement with prosecutors during a settlement conference in front of Gila County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Gary Scales on Feb. 8. The settlement conference was held after Graham County Superior Court Judge R. Douglas Holt ruled a video— and audiotaped murder confession Mendez gave when he was 16 — would be admissible during the defendant's trial.
Mendez is charged with several felonies relating to the Sept. 11, 2010, murder of Ralph E. Onate, 52, including two counts of premeditated murder, aggravated assault, burglary, theft of means of transportation, armed robbery and theft of a credit card. He also faces sexual conduct with a minor and molestation of a child charges relating to alleged sexual conduct with a 12-year-old girl shortly before the murder.
Mendez, who was 16 at the time, is accused of stabbing Onate more than 50 times and stealing the victim's truck to flee to El Paso, Texas. He was apprehended by U.S. Marshals on Sept. 13, 2010, in El Paso, at a relative's home — two days after the victim's body was found.
Mendez's jury murder trial is scheduled for March 26-29 and April 2-5. His trial for sexual conduct with a minor charges has not been reset on the calendar as of yet. Pinal County Chief Deputy County Attorney Richard Wintory is serving as a special homicide prosecutor in the murder case and leads the prosecution along with Graham County Attorney Kenneth Angle.
Dominguez murder trial set for August
The only other open murder case in Graham County has a trial date set for fall.
George Anthony Dominguez Jr., 19, is accused of murdering Korean War veteran William Wheelan, 78, in his sleep.
He faces numerous felony charges regarding an alleged armed robbery gone wrong on or around Jan. 31, 2012. The charges include murder in the first degree and second degree, manslaughter, discharging a firearm at a structure, trafficking in stolen property, two counts of burglary in the second degree, theft of a firearm, theft and conspiracy.
According to police reports, Dominguez and four accomplices, Andrew Whipple, David Stock, Savannah Stock and Daniel Clark, set out to burglarize multiple cabins in the Bear Springs area about five miles southwest of Pima.
Dominguez and Whipple allegedly approached a shack-like cabin, where Dominguez discovered Wheelan and fired one shot from his SKS rifle, which hit the victim in his shoulder and neck.
The next morning, prosecutors allege Whipple and Dominguez returned to the scene of the crime, where Dominguez used the butt of his SKS rifle to shatter a glass door, and the pair robbed the residence of several items, including a shotgun. Dominguez made a statement to police that he did not shoot Wheelan and suggested his accomplices were conspiring against him to take the fall for the crime.
Dominguez's trial is set for Aug. 13-16 and Aug. 20-23. Former Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores is serving as a special prosecutor in the case, and attorney Michael B. Bernays of Phoenix represents Dominguez.