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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A Kern County judge sentenced a convicted murderer suffering from terminal cancer to life in prison without the possibility of parole, noting the jury's verdict, previous violent felony convictions and testimony from the defendant's son indicating his father was the shooter.
Mark Anthony Mendoza Sr., 42, showed no reaction as Judge John R. Brownlee handed down the sentence of life without parole plus 35 years. Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman said afterward he had no comment other than he respects but disagrees with the jury's decision.
Cadman submitted a motion for a new trial, arguing that sentencing Mendoza to life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment since he's suffering from cancer. Cadman's motion included about 25 bullet points outlining what he believed were pretrial ruling errors, trial ruling errors, jury instruction errors and problems with the prosecutor's closing argument.
Brownlee said he had read the motion and in his opinion no errors were committed. He denied Cadman's motion and proceeded with sentencing.
A large group of family and friends of Mendoza attended the sentencing. His fiancee, who said she goes by Eva Mendoza because they consider themselves already married to one another, said she doesn't agree with the verdict and she believes the actual killer is still walking free.
"It was just the wrong judgment," Eva Mendoza said.
She's known Mendoza for years, and described him as a fun-loving man who loves his grandchildren. She acknowledged he has a criminal record and is an accused gang member, but she said "the past is the past."
Eva Mendoza thinks Mark Mendoza's health will deteriorate even more quickly in prison. She said he was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and his appearance continues to get worse.
"He doesn't have much longer," she said.
Two people from the victim's family attended the sentencing but quickly left the courtroom afterward. Prosecutor Eric Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.
A jury convicted Mendoza on Feb. 28 of murder, firing a gun from a vehicle at a person, possession of a gun by a felon, possession of ammunition by a felon and participation in a criminal street gang.
Kern County sheriff's deputies said Mendoza went to Stella's Sandtrap Lounge on Niles Street Aug. 21, 2011, and saw members of a rival gang inside. Mendoza shot Roman Fernandez, 34, in the parking lot of the bar, deputies said.
Fernandez died a short time later at Kern Medical Center. Deputies seized a stolen gun, a vehicle believed used during the homicide and other evidence linked to the shooting.