Fernando Mendoza, 18, was missing for two months before his body was found in a shallow grave outside Snohomish. His family on Thursday tried to explain the torment caused first by his disappearance and later the anguish of being told he was never coming home.
"My son wasn't an animal to be left the way he was left," his mother said. "He was a beautiful boy."
Edgar Omar Alejandre, 20, kept his head bowed while the slain man's family told Superior Court Janice Ellis how much the defendant robbed from them when he pulled the trigger of a shotgun. Mendoza's brother, 7, continues to ask when can he see his big brother, his best buddy. His family fears that the little boy's memories will fade over time.
"I don't want my little brother to forget he had a brother," one of Mendoza's sisters told the judge.
Mendoza's family last spoke with him on July 2. He told relatives that he was going to see Alejandre to settle a drug debt. Prosecutors allege that Alejandre and Victor Manuel Garcia, 19, planned to rob and kill Mendoza when they agreed to meet with him that day at a house north of Snohomish.
Garcia reportedly told detectives he knew something bad was going to happen. He allegedly admitted he and Alejandre purchased rubber gloves and bleach before the meeting. They also allegedly took a shotgun from the house and hid the weapon in a barn on the property, court papers said.
Alejandre is accused of shooting Mendoza as he walked toward the barn and then robbing him. Prosecutors say the two men dragged Mendoza's body into the woods and left him there. They tried cleaning up blood that had pooled on the ground with bleach and a hose, court papers said. They abandoned Mendoza's vehicle in a Marysville parking lot.
Mendoza's remains were discovered two months later in the woods in the 16100 block of Dubuque Road. He'd been shot three times.
Garcia remains charged with first-degree murder.
Alejandre pleaded guilty last month, but denied killing Mendoza. Instead, he acknowledged jurors likely would convict him if he had gone to trial. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend a low-end sentence. He is expected to serve a minimum of 25 years, about eight years less than the maximum allowed under the law.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Janice Albert told the judge that she views what happened as a crime committed by a child against another child.
"I think we have some boys playing a man's game," she said.
She said no amount of prison time will seem like justice for the slain's man family, however, a 26-year prison sentence is an enormous amount of time, especially for someone the defendant's age, she said.
Defense attorney George Trejo said his client is ashamed of what he did. While he has denied being the shooter, he has taken responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty, Trejo said.
Alejandre apologized on Thursday, saying he didn't expect to be forgiven. It was an apology he repeated when the judge asked him to face the slain man's family filling the courtroom.
Ellis said she can understand why Mendoza's family doesn't believe the defendant is taking responsibility for his actions.
"He hasn't said the magic words. He hasn't said 'I killed Fernando,'" she said.
Under the law, however, he has made an admission by pleading guilty, Ellis said. She also said that no amount of punishment will bring Mendoza back to his family or heal their grief.
"This is not about mercy. It's about accountability," Ellis said before handing down her sentence.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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