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Guilty plea by second Rails to Trails attacker

Mar 27, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A judge has convicted the second defendant in the Rails to Trails attack of homicide and aggravated assault.

The defendant, Santana Mendoza, pleaded guilty Thursday to both counts in Lander District Court in exchange for reduced charges.

Judge Norman E. Young asked why the 16-year-old and his then-15-year-old co-defendant, John Potter, both of Riverton, killed David Ronald Moss Jr. and beat Alleeah Crispin unconscious on Sept. 4.

"I don't know why I did it," Mendoza said. "It felt like something got inside my head I didn't like."

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett had reduced Mendoza's charges from second degree murder for the death of Moss and from attempted second degree murder for injuring Crispin.

"Ms. Crispin suffered a traumatic brain injury," Bennett said. "She did undergo surgery to relieve swelling in the brain ... she has the lingering effects of that injury."

Sentencing guidelines

Under Mendoza's new charges, he faces a maximum of 30 years in prison -- up to 10 for the assault charge and up to 20 for the homicide. The parties did not agree on a sentence in the plea deal, but they will argue for what they think is appropriate at a later sentencing hearing.

The parties did recommend the sentences for both charges run concurrently, which would lead to a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

In February, Potter pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aiding and abetting aggravated assault and also faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. Prosecutors lowered his charges from second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder as well in return for the guilty pleas. Potter has not been sentenced.

In Wyoming, killing a person is manslaughter if it is reckless and unintentional, but it is second-degree murder if it is intentional and malicious.

The attack

Mendoza said Potter asked him to help attack the two victims. He expressed remorse at the hearing.

"I don't know why I did it, I had stuff going good for me," Mendoza said. "I messed up my whole life.

He had started at a new school, St. Stephen's, just two weeks earlier. He also has a daughter and said he was excited about the football season, Mendoza said.

"It was really, really messed up," he said.

At about 7 p.m. Sept. 4, Mendoza was returning from a friend's home along the Rails to Trails Path near the All Nations Trailer Park when he came across Potter, Mendoza said. The two were talking about their football seasons when Potter mentioned Moss and Crispin, who were sitting under a tree next to the paved trail.

"He asked me if I wanted to help him rob them and beat them up," Mendoza said.

After he dispassionately explained how he met up with Potter, Mendoza's voice cracked as he fought to choke back sobs while he described the attack.

Mendoza said he did not know the victims and was not very familiar with Potter either.

"I barely knew this person," Mendoza said. "I just knew him from football."

Mendoza refused at first, he said, but agreed when Potter asked a second time. Potter retrieved a bat and a brass knuckles from a nearby residence, and the two boys approached their victims.

'I ran home crying'

After chatting for a few minutes, Potter kicked Moss in the face, Mendoza said. Then he joined the attack and both boys kicked both of the victims.

"They both started bleeding," Mendoza said. "Then John Potter hit (Moss) with the bat ... in the side of the face."

Mendoza said he kept the brass knuckles in his pocket but did kick both victims in the head before the boys stopped the attack and started walking away. He did not know how bad their injuries were.

"David Moss was lying on his side making snoring noises, and Alleeah Crispin was just lying there," Mendoza said. "I didn't know they would be hurt like that."

Potter "searched" the victims after the beating but did not steal anything from them, Mendoza said.

He said the brutality of the attack shook him up and left him confused.

"I just ran home crying," he finished. "It wasn't me; it was a whole different person."

Young was satisfied that Mendoza's description of the attack established his guilt, and he entered a conviction.

He ordered a pre-sentence investigation and that the defendant's $500,000 cash bond be continued.

A date for Mendoza's sentencing has not been set.

Correction: This story should have said Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett had reduced Santana Mendoza's charges from second degree murder for the death of David Ronald Moss Jr. and from attempted second degree murder for injuring Alleeah Crispin. The correction was made March 28.

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