EVERETT — In the cellphone photo, Lendsay Meza gazes out of the window of a Saturn sedan, as her boyfriend Anthony Hernandez-Cano looks down at something that’s hidden from view, with a backdrop of bright green leafy brush. He’s wearing dark gloves and holding a .22-caliber Ruger pistol.
Prosecutors believe it’s the time and place where Hernandez-Cano shot to death Mohamed Adan, 21, of Seattle, on the outskirts of Blue Stilly Park near Arlington in July 2018.
After three weeks of testimony, a jury began deliberating Wednesday to decide if Meza, 22, acted as an accomplice or if she was an unwilling participant in two torture-killings.
Hernandez-Cano, then 18, held petty grudges against Adan and a second man, Ezekiel Kelly, 22, of Everett. He’s serving life behind bars for aggravated murder.
According to her testimony on the witness stand this week, Meza recalled nothing about the drive north to the riverside park where Adan’s body was discovered, with burn marks on his face and other signs of torture. Meza has no memory, she said, of Adan being held prisoner at gunpoint in the back of her car. She wasn’t awake and someone else drove, she said.
Meza told the jury she does remember the events preceding a second killing that same week. Her boyfriend and his friend, Hassani Hassani, kidnapped Kelly and held him in the back seat of her car, while she drove. At one point they stopped, and at least twice, she testified, she struck Kelly with an aluminum baseball bat in a secluded spot in the woods.
She acted out of fear, she said.
An autopsy showed Kelly was stabbed 27 times, and suffered many wounds in the car. Meza claimed she heard the muffled sounds of a struggle, but no screaming, and nothing to make her realize what was happening.
“I don’t even know what a stab even sounds like,” she said.
She wanted it to stop, but couldn’t, she testified.
“How do you feel now, trying to talk about this?” her defense attorney Walter Peale asked her on the witness stand.
“Disappointed and mad,” Meza said, “and I feel very bad, because it wasn’t fair.”
Jurors heard hours of interviews from the defendant, and read along with transcripts. Attorneys on both sides agreed that her boyfriend was “a nasty piece of work,” and that his convicted accomplice Hassani was “not much better.”
Hassani is serving 35 years behind bars.
Meza is charged with the first-degree murder.
In his closing argument Wednesday, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson reiterated that Meza did not pull the trigger to kill either young man — but he argued she’d done plenty to help her boyfriend in the killings and the coverups.
Her DNA, for example, was left on a set of jumper cables apparently used to bind Adan in a garage, where blood spatter suggested he’d been beaten, Matheson said. Police found the cables hastily abandoned in a bundle on a chair.
“Look at it,” Matheson said, flipping through a slideshow for the jury. “A close-up of the hammer. The ligature. And the camp chair. Lights, please. Now, this image puts into context a number of things. You’ve got the blood on the wall … “
Meza did not lift her gaze to the pictures.
The defense argued Meza endured abuse as a child, and that she struggled to talk about traumatic things, both in police interviews and on the witness stand.
The defense attorney, Peale, said “this young woman does not have a set of skills that allows her to resist” a manipulative psychopath like Hernandez-Cano.
Text messages between Hassani and Hernandez-Cano show the two men talking about the plan. There were no messages like that recovered between Meza and her boyfriend. The real killers, Peale said, didn’t exactly sit around the kitchen table, telling Meza what they were plotting.
In the early morning hours when Adan was killed, she’d been impaired by the alcohol, cannabis and Xanax she’d consumed at another young woman’s coming-of-age party, known as a Quinceañera. According to the defense, a mutual friend got in the car, and it was the friend who drove to Arlington, not Meza. (That person was never charged with a crime.) It’s not outside the realm of possiblilty, Peale said, that Meza was unconscious for the torture and killing of Adan.
“She’s still in this fugue state, this fog state,” Peale said.
He suggested the friend may have taken the photo of her looking in the direction of the killing.
Meza testified that later, when Kelly was lured into her car, she tried to drive into oncoming traffic in a deparate attempt to get someone’s attention.
Under questioning, she told the jury that nobody told her to hit Kelly in the leg with the bat, but she’d done it anyway.
“Why?” her attorney Walter Peale said.
“Because Tony was coming after me,” she said quickly.
“Did you want to hurt Kelly?”
“Did you hit him hard enough to hurt him?”
“No, I didn’t.”
She said she retreated to the car and felt scared.
In cross examination, the prosecutor asked Meza what made her so angry at Kelly that she beat him with a bat.
“I wasn’t angry at him,” Meza said. “I was sad.”
“What part about being sad makes you want to hit him with a bat?” Matheson asked.
“I didn’t want to hit him,” the defendant said.
“But you did.”
Afterward she drove the men to the abandoned house in Mukilteo, where Hassani fired the shots that killed Kelly.
“I didn’t hear no gunshots,” Meza said.
They departed the home without him.
Detectives later identified Meza’s car because it had driven past a security camera at a rural fire station near Arlington, leading to a breakthrough in the two unsolved killings.
In an interview, Meza told police the blood covering the back seats of her Saturn was spilled tequila, mixed with cranberry juice. However, just after the second killing, she had taken a short video of the stained seats of her Saturn.
“Look what you guys (expletive) did! (Expletive) (racial slur)!” she shouted. “What the (expletive)!”
Both Adan and Kelly are African-American.
On the witness stand, Meza said she’d been complaining about the actions of Hernandez-Cano and Hassani.
“I didn’t hear (you say) one word about poor Ezekiel,” Matheson said.
“No,” Meza said. “I didn’t.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.
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