Local prison inmate facing second murder trial

June 05, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

Jury selection began in the second trial of a 24-year-old Calipatria State Prison inmate accused of stabbing another inmate to death on April 13, 1998.

Jury selection was limited after only 41 of 125 summoned potential jurors showed up to the County Courthouse in El Centro. Of the 41, 16 didn't speak English.

In the first trial in the case, Louis Gomez, who killed fellow inmate Abe Mendibles, 41, by stabbing him 14 times, was found not guilty of first-degree murder.


The jury could not reach a decision on a lesser charge of second-degree murder, so Superior Court Judge James Harmon declared a mistrial in relation to the second-degree murder.

In the second trial, Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Karla Davis will seek to convict Gomez of second-degree murder.

In the first trial, Gomez was facing the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree murder.

He still could be facing the death penalty for the second-degree murder on a count separated from the first phase of the trial — assault by a life prisoner.

On Tuesday, Harmon, who will preside over the retrial, told potential jurors jury selection will last about two months. He added it will take the rest of the summer to finish the trial.

Harmon and Davis seemed bothered by only 41 summoned jurors showing up.

In the first trial, Davis claimed the murder was premeditated. She claimed Gomez stabbed Mendibles inside a prison classroom after waiting until the lights were dimmed so the inmates could watch a movie.

Gomez's attorney, John Breeze of El Centro, claimed Gomez was the victim and that Mendibles threatened him and stabbed Mendibles in fear of his life.

Gomez is serving a life sentence for murder and robbery from a 1996 conviction in Los Angeles County. Mendibles was serving a 25 years to life sentence under the three strikes law.

Jury selection was set to continue today.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

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