Man found guilty of murder in deaths of Wake County couple

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Jonathan Santillan

A jury found Jonathan Santillan guilty on all counts Friday in the murders of Samuel Flores Mendoza and Maria Saravia Mendoza inside their house near Garner on Jan. 5, 2013.

Prosecutors said Santillan and another teen believed a rival gang member lived in the couple's home in the 700 block of Colonial Drive when they went in with an AK-47 assault rifle and a pistol and executed them.

Santillan was just 15 at the time.

The state's key witness at the trial was Moise Reyes, who told the jury last week that he drove Santillan and Israel Vasquez - who was 16 at the time and also charged - to the home where the Mendozas and their two young sons had moved when the teen's rival gang member moved out. The Mendozas' 3-year-old child was also in the home at the time of the killings, but was not hurt. The couple's older child was not at the house.

Reyes testified Santillan and Vasquez put on masks and gloves before they went into the home so they wouldn't be recognized or leave fingerprints.

But on cross-examination, Reyes' credibility came into question repeatedly when he admitted he initially told a number of lies to police. Defense attorney Jeff Cutler was at times obviously trying to make it appear to jurors that Reyes may have been one of the gunmen - not his client.

On the witness stand, several veteran investigators had called the crime scene - where a couple was killed in a case of mistaken identity - among the worst they'd ever seen.

RELATED: Autopsy: Wife in Garner murders shot 7 times

"It's probably one of the most horrific scenes I've been on in my career in public service," Wake County Sheriff's Investigator Ed Blomgren said last week. "I've worked in EMS, fire, military, and now law enforcement. And it ranks right up there with one of the most horrific."

Santillan was convicted of two counts of murder, felony conspiracy, first-degree burglary, possession of stolen property, and possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number.

Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.
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