(Santana Mendoza was escorted into the Riverton Circuit Courtroom by deputies. Joshua Scheer photo)
(Lander, Wyo.) – The two teenage boys accused of last week’s Rails to Trails homicide and attempted murder were bound over this morning to Wyoming’s Ninth District Court on all charges.
John Potter and Santana Mendoza, both born in 1997 and from Riverton, have been charged with Second Degree Murder in the death of David Moss Jr., 25, and the attempted second degree murder of Aleeah Crispin. According to Fremont County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Braddock, Crispin remains in a coma at a Casper hospital.
The case will now be handled in the District Court located in Lander. An arraignment date has not yet been set, though Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett previously told County10.com that he expects the boys’ defense attorneys to file for a transfer to juvenile court. Currently, the pair are being tried as adults.
Braddock was the first to testify. He spoke about arriving at the scene, seeing Moss’s body lying about 20 feet to the east of the bike trail. While approaching the body from a round-about direction to avoid disturbing evidence, Braddock said himself and Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan discovered Crispin laying on her back in a dry ditch. He said she was hidden from view initially by the terrain.
Braddock said, based on medical records and his own observations at the hospital, that Crispin has a subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain that can be fatal), facial swelling and bruising and apparently no physical control of her left side. There is no evidence, he said, of a sexual assault.
Braddock also said Moss died of subdural hematoma caused by blunt force trauma and manual strangulation, based on the coroner’s preliminary report. He said Moss was identified using fingerprints and tattoo matching. Riverton Circuit Court Judge Wesley Roberts was shown photographs of both victims, but they were not published for everyone in the courtroom to see.
During cross examination by Mendoza’s attorney, Sky Phifer, Braddock said the two bodies were roughly 30 feet apart from each other. He also said the sheriff’s office took on the investigation because the attack appeared to have occurred right on the City of Riverton jurisdiction line.
Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Andrew Hanson was the last to testify. He spoke of interviews he observed and conducted with Mendoza.
Hanson said Mendoza told him he had been out for a run on the trail when Potter stopped him. He said Potter had heard Moss and Crispin saying bad things about their family. Mendoza allegedly told Hanson that Potter asked him to help attack the both of them. Hanson said Mendoza was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed to watch the couple while Potter went to get weapons. Potter returned with a bat and brass knuckles, Mendoza told Hanson. All of this occurred sometime after 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 3.
Mendoza told Hanson that after Potter returned, Mendoza took the knuckles and they initiated small talk with Moss and Crispin. Mendoza said Potter kicked Moss in the face while Moss was seated on the ground and then Crispin. He also said that he himself kicked Moss once and then stomped on his face twice. He said he kicked Crispin once, but denied ever using the brass knuckles. Mendoza told Hanson that he witnessed Potter hitting Moss with overhead swings of the bat.
According to Hanson, Mendoza said both were alive when the attacked stopped and they left in different directions. Hanson testified that he had heard no testimony of any conversation between the two defendants during the alleged attack.
An informant, who was unnamed in court, told Hanson that Mendoza had bragged about the attack on the school bus the next day. Mendoza allegedly denied ever talking about it to someone on the bus.
Hanson admitted that at this point in the investigation he had no physical evidence that Potter was involved in the attack, but he noted he wasn’t in charge of evidence collection.
During closing arguments Potter’s lead attorney Carrie Johnson made the case that the state had presented no evidence other than testimony from Mendoza that her client was involved. She called Mendoza’s credibility into question, noting there were some things he told the informant in the bus but not told to authorities.
After a roughly 45 minute recess to consider the evidence, Roberts bound both over on all charges. No changes were made to either’s bond. Mendoza is set at $500,000 cash only and Potter is $1 million cash only. Roberts said he set the bonds that way at the initial appearance last week because the evidence he had heard led him to believe Potter had played a larger role than Mendoza. However, he said after hearing Thursday’s evidence, he no longer believes that to be true.