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Second bike path attacker gets 12 to 18 years prison

Jun 25, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The second defendant in the case of a deadly attack last year on the Rails to Trails path received the same sentence Tuesday as the first did in April: 12 to 18 years in prison for manslaughter.

District Court Judge Norman E. Young also recommended both for the boot camp program, which could short their sentences.

When he looked for any facts in the case that would differentiate the two defendants' conduct, the judge could not find much.

"I can't really distinguish," Young said.

One dead, one injured

On Sept. 4, Santana Mendoza, then 16, and John Potter, then 15, both of Riverton, attacked David Ronald Moss Jr., 25, and Aleeah Crispin on the recreation path near the All Nations trailer park. The beating killed Moss and put Crispin in a coma.

Young also sentenced Mendoza to a concurrent eight to 10 years in prison in prison for aggravated assault for the attack on Crispin. The judge ordered Mendoza to join Potter in paying $12,000 in restitution.

A plea agreement lowered Mendoza's charges in exchange for guilty pleas.

The Wyoming Department of Corrections' Boot Camp is a six-month rehabilitation program for male offenders 18 years to 25 years old. Mendoza completes the program, Young could shorten his sentence.

Emotional apology

Sobbing, Mendoza apologized to the 20 family members of the victims who attended.

"Thinking about the outcome of mine and (John) Kalani Potter's action changed me. From the bottom of my heart I'm sorry," he said.

Crispin also spoke, saying the assault damaged her short term memory and now she cannot care for her children, but she has also gone through a program to help her forgive her attackers.

"I just wish the day never came the way it did," she said.

Her father John Crispin Jr. also spoke, saying caring for his daughter was "Like raising a little girl all over again."

Sentencing arguments

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett argued for a the maximum sentences for Mendoza's charges, 18 to 20 years in prison for manslaughter and eight to 10 for aggravated assault, though he did say courts should treat juveniles different than adults. He had argued for the same sentence for Potter.

"My hope is, arriving at a just sentence, that this community and these families behind me can start to rebuild what was taken away," he said, referring to the victims' and the defendant's relatives.

Mendoza's attorney Sky Phifer said his client expressed remorse from the beginning, was emotionally more immature than his young age, wants to pursue an education, and hopes to contribute to society.

"We would like the court to look at rehabilitation in this," the lawyer said.

Moss's mother, Victoria Moss, told the court she was not happy with the plea agreement and said the attack was a hate crime. The defendants attacked her son because he was gay, she said.

"Matthew Shepard's killers got life in prison. I guess a white gay man's life is worth more than a native gay man's life," she said.

Phifer refuted the attack was motivated by homophobia. Young denied the victim's race or sexual orientation affect the case's outcome, noting the man's sexuality never was mentioned in the case before the mother spoke Tuesday.

"I completely reject the notion that I would have accepted the plea agreement or sentenced them way they were done because I had some knowledge the victim was Native American or that he was gay. That didn't happen here," the judge said.

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