Stanislaus County accessory defendants in Newman cop killing to be turned over to feds

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Paulo Virgen Mendoza, who is accused of killing Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh during a traffic stop last week, makes his first appearance in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday.
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Paulo Virgen Mendoza, who is accused of killing Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh during a traffic stop last week, makes his first appearance in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday.

Four defendants accused of helping a man evade capture after the shooting death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh are scheduled to return to Stanislaus Superior Court on Thursday, so local authorities can turn them over to federal officials.

Paulo Virgen Mendoza has been charged with murder in Singh’s death. Mendoza is accused of killing Singh during a Dec. 26 traffic stop in Newman. Mendoza is still identified in court and jail records as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an alias.

Mendoza’s girlfriend, Ana Leyde Cervantes, his brothers Conrado Virgen Mendoza and Adrian Virgen, and his co-worker Erik Razo Quiroz have pleaded not guilty to felony accessory charges in Stanislaus County.

Jeff Mangar, who is prosecuting Mendoza in the murder case, confirmed on Wednesday that the District Attorney’s Office will hand over the accessory case to federal authorities.

He said in an e-mail that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will take over the prosecution of the defendants since they “face a more serious punishment under federal laws than what California’s newly revised criminal justice statutes allow.”

Mangar also said the prosecution of Mendoza in the murder case will remain in Stanislaus County. Mendoza on Wednesday remained in custody without bail in Stanislaus County. He is scheduled to return to court Feb. 7.

Earlier this week, the three accessory defendants arrested in Kern County were turned over to federal authorities, the Bakersfield Californian reported. Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, Maria Luisa Moreno and Erasmo Villegas were arrested along with Mendoza days after the deadly shooting.

The Kern County District Attorney’s Office also chose to drop their local accessory charges because the defendants face more serious punishment under federal law. Under Assembly Bill 109, convictions on a charge of being an accessory to any crime — including murder — are no longer eligible for state prison terms, only local jail terms, the Bakersfiled Californian reported.

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From left: Conrado Virgen Mendoza, Ana Leyde Cervantes, Adrian Virgen, and Erik Razo Quiroz

Initially, the four accessory defendants in Stanislaus County also were scheduled to return to court Feb. 7. But on Tuesday, another pretrial hearing was requested for the defendants to return to court Thursday.

Typically, when county prosecutors decide to drop local charges in lieu of federal charges, they request a hearing. They drop the local charges, and the U.S. Marshal’s Office then take custody of defendants to be transferred to federal court.

On Wednesday, the four defendants remained in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail. They are among seven defendants facing federal charges; accused of helping Mendoza slip through a police dragnet and escape into Mexico. After a 55-hour manhunt, Paulo Virgen Mendoza was captured near Bakersfield.

If convicted of the federal charge of conspiracy and aiding and abetting, harboring and shielding from detection an illegal alien, each defendant could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 2 in federal court.

Filed court records indicate Castaneda, Moreno and Villegas appeared in federal court Tuesday. Not guilty pleas to the federal charges were entered on their behalf, and they were were scheduled to return to court Jan. 22.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.