SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Mexican national pleaded guilty under a deal with prosecutors in an emotional hearing Thursday to killing a Newman police officer.
Paulo Virgen Mendoza admitted fatally shooting Cpl. Ronil Singh of the Newman Police Department during a traffic stop early Dec. 26, 2018.
He pleaded guilty to murder and admitted to multiple special circumstances and the use of a gun under a deal with Stanislaus County prosecutors that will spare him the death penalty. The district attorney’s office had said in May it would seek his execution if he was convicted.
Investigators said Mendoza shot Singh, who was born in Fiji, after the police corporal stopped him early the day after Christmas on suspicion of driving under the influence.
“He loved his American dream of becoming a police officer,” said his widow, Anamika Singh, breaking down in sobs on the witness stand. “He wanted his son to also be a police officer.”
She recalled how the family celebrated Christmas together before he kissed his 5-month-old son on the forehead, then “he told me, ‘I love you and I’ll see you in the morning.’ ”
Then came the 2 a.m. knock on the door from a fellow officer and the nightmarish ride to a hospital surrounded by officers from multiple agencies, where she learned he had died.
She told Virgen Mendoza that he “tore away my dreams … tore my love away from me and left me silently screaming.”
She initially carried her child to the witness stand with her to show him to Virgen Mendoza, but handed him off when he began crying. Judge Ricardo Córdova said he gave the child several toys to calm him during a break in proceedings.
Virgen Mendoza deserved the death penalty, she told Córdova, but she accepted his life-without-parole sentence “since this is California and we would most likely not get it.”
California has not executed anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium on executions so long as he is governor.
Virgen Mendoza was in the country illegally, and two men who also were in the country illegally including his brother were later convicted by a federal jury of aiding Mendoza as he tried to escape to Mexico. Three others, including his girlfriend, pleaded guilty and two more were acquitted, but all faced deportation proceedings.