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Jury set in death penalty case

January 24, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A jury of seven men and five women was set Wednesday for the death penalty case involving a Calipatria State Prison inmate who killed another inmate by using a "shank" in 1998.

Opening statements in the Louis Gomez case are expected Tuesday in the County Courthouse in El Centro.

Initially, Superior Court Judge James Harmon agreed to a motion by Gomez's defense team to continue the case until February.

However, defense attorneys John Breeze and Chris Plourd of El Centro submitted a new motion calling for the judge to strike their previous motion and allow the trial to start.

The trial, which Deputy District Attorney Karla Davis estimated could take two months, will start Tuesday after a five-month process to select a jury.

The difficulty in finding a jury was because those who would serve as jurors had to be "death-qualified," which means they had to be found suitable to hear a case in which they could face having to decide whether Gomez will face the death penalty if found guilty.


If the jury were to find Gomez guilty of first-degree murder and at least one of two special circumstances tied to the case, he could face life in prison without chance of parole or death.

Information on those special circumstances has not been made public.

Gomez, 24, is accused of murdering inmate Abe Mendibles on April 13, 1998, while the two were in a classroom.

According to the DA's Office, Gomez — then 20 — stabbed Mendibles, who was in his 40s, 14 times with a prisoner-made "shank." Gomez has remained in administrative segregation at the prison since then.

Gomez's attorneys have argued their client stabbed Mendibles in self-defense, stating Mendibles made threats against Gomez's life.

Because of the nature of the case, few details have been released on Gomez's history. He is in Calipatria State Prison for a crime that has not been disclosed. Mendibles was serving 25 years to life under the three-strikes law.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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