(joplinglobe.com) - The murder charge Juan Mendoza was facing in the machete slaying of Mario Gonzalez two years ago in Carthage has been dismissed.
Mendoza, 47, was scheduled to go to trial July 14 on a count of second-degree murder. That charge was dismissed Monday and the defendant was released from the Jasper County Jail, where he had been held since his arrest in May 2012.
Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said Circuit Judge Gayle Craneâ€™s recent decision to grant a defense motion to suppress statements Mendoza allegedly made to police after his arrest forced a re-evaluation of the stateâ€™s evidence.
â€śWe reviewed the file to see if we could still make the case, and we determined that we could not,â€ť Dankelson said.
The prosecutor also cited the deportation of a key witness as a factor in the case.
Gonzalez, 43, was found hacked to death on April 25, 2012, near a camp on the banks of the Spring River on the north side of Carthage. Police believe he had been killed the morning of the preceding day. An autopsy determined that he had been struck three times in the back of the neck and that his throat had been cut with a machete.
A probable-cause affidavit alleged that Mendoza acknowledged that a machete recovered by police belonged to him. The document also said a witness placed Mendoza at the scene of the crime the morning in question. The witness, Teodoro Paxtor-Ramos, reportedly told investigators that Mendoza and Gonzalez were the only ones at the camp when he left and that when he returned a short time later, Gonzalez was dead and Mendoza was gone.
Mendoza did not confess to killing Gonzalez, or even to having been in a struggle with him, when he was questioned the day the murder was discovered. He reportedly was given a voice-stress test and sent home.
He was questioned a second time on May 4, 2012, when he showed up in the lobby of the Carthage police station seeking the return of his phone and shoes. He agreed to go with investigators to the scene of the murder on that date and was arrested upon their return to the police station. But police have acknowledged that he made no incriminating statements on that date either.
The judgeâ€™s ruling, issued June 23, pertains to written and oral statements the defendant provided on May 9, 2012, when an officer went to see him at the jail about blood discovered on his clothes.
The statements he provided on that occasion have not been made public, but the state was seeking to have them admitted into evidence at trial. Mendozaâ€™s public defenders succeeded in getting them suppressed on grounds that their clientâ€™s attempts to invoke his rights to counsel and to remain silent were ignored.
Dankelson said the stateâ€™s case was further hampered by the deportation of Paxtor-Ramos.
â€śHe has been deported out of the country, and his whereabouts are unknown,â€ť the prosecutor said.
According to Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan, the Guatemalan, who was residing illegally in the U.S., was picked up and deported within a few days of Mendozaâ€™s arrest. Dankelson said he does not know if the federal government was aware at the time that Paxtor-Ramos was a witness in a murder case.
Dagnan characterized the suppressed statements as key evidence. He indicated that they entailed more than just an admission of ownership of the machete. But he declined to reveal the content of the statements since the judge has ruled that they are not admissible at trial.
A MURDER CHARGE COULD BE REFILED if new evidence surfaces in the slaying of Mario Gonzalez, according to Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan. Police have been reinterviewing witnesses and re-examining case facts in the wake of a judgeâ€™s ruling that led to dismissal of the murder charge that Juan Mendoza was facing.