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Bike path attackers named; teens being charged as adults
Sep 10, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
One of the boys charged in connection with a beating death last week north of Riverton was telling people about the incident after it occurred, and it led to his arrest.
According to court documents, an informant told police last Wednesday, Sept. 4, that Santana Mendoza had been talking about beating a person near the Rails to Trails bike path that day.
The boy was interviewed on Thursday, Sept. 5, when he confessed to perpetrating the crime along with another teen, John Potter.
Mendoza is 16 years old. Potter is 15.
Both defendants were born in 1997, but Fremont County prosecutor Michael Bennett said he intends to charge the boys as adults in connection with the incident, which left one victim dead and another in critical condition.
"The fact that they're alleged to have committed a violent crime ... gives the state the option to charge (them as adults)," Bennett said, adding, "(They're) alleged to have committed one of the most adult crimes possible."
Officials said Mendoza and Potter are being held at a juvenile detention facility in Sweetwater County after their arrest last Thursday, Sept. 5.
They are both being charged with second degree murder for the death of David Ronald Moss Jr., 25, who was found unresponsive last Wednesday, Sept. 4, along the Rails to Trails pathway north of town. Preliminary autopsy results show he died of blunt-force trauma, primarily to the head.
A second count charges the boys with attempted second degree murder for their alleged assault on Aleeah Crispin, a woman in her late 30s, who was found unresponsive near Moss on Wednesday. She reportedly was air lifted to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper last week to be treated for her injuries.
"She's still in critical condition at this time," Fremont County undersheriff Ryan Lee said Tuesday. "She's fighting for her life."
Both charges are felonies punishable by imprisonment for 20 years or life.
Lee said he couldn't release booking photos of the defendants because they are under 18.
"It's against the law to take photos or fingerprints of juvenile suspects," Lee said.
The teens had their initial appearance in Riverton Circuit Court last Friday, when bond was set at $500,000 cash for Mendoza and $1 million cash for Potter. They will appear for their preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday in Riverton.
Brass knuckles, baseball bat
Court documents filed Friday didn't reveal any motive behind the alleged assault near the All Nations Trailer Park in north Riverton.
During his interview with police, Mendoza stated that, prior to the incident, he and Potter had discussed attacking Moss and Crispin, who they had noticed eating fast food next to the Rails to Trails pathway.
Mendoza said he continued to watch Moss and Crispin while Potter retrieved a metal baseball bat and brass knuckles. Mendoza took the brass knuckles, though he denied using them in the attack. Instead, he said he kicked both victims in the face while they lay on the ground. Mendoza reportedly saw Potter hit Moss with the bat and kick Crispin in the face while she was trying to get up and run away.
Mendoza said both victims were unconscious when the boys left the area; Moss reportedly was making a "snoring noise."
Police were called to the scene at about 7:40 a.m. Wednesday when a pedestrian reported seeing an unresponsive person on the Rails to Trails pathway near Comanche Street. When they arrived at the scene, officials said they found Moss first, then discovered Crispin nearby. She was breathing but unconscious and suffering from severe head trauma.
Two search warrants were executed on Thursday, Sept. 5. One search took place at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the trailer park, where officials were seen wielding automatic weapons and wearing bulletproof vests. They searched the neighborhood between 2:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.
The other search reportedly was conducted in the Gardens North subdivision north of Honor Farm Road.
Officials said Mendoza and Potter were arrested at about 7 p.m. Thursday. No further suspects are believed to be at large, though the investigation into the incident will continue "for some time," according to reports.
Agencies involved include the Riverton Police Department, Fremont County Sheriff's Office, Wind River Police Department and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. Officers from the Lander Police Department provided assistance Wednesday, Sept. 4.
-- Staff writer Eric Blom contributed to this story