Police pursue shooting case after full year

TURLOCK -- The autopsy drawing of Marcus Sanchez shows his thin mustache and faint goatee. There's an entrance wound in his chest where a bullet of unknown caliber pierced his lung and an exit wound where another bullet escaped after it was pumped into his back.

The autopsy drawing is just a drawing, black ink on paper, but it isn't pretty. Bruises on his face, neck and chest, and his black eye are shaded dark and deep.

Sanchez was gunned down a year ago today in the wee hours of a Friday morning. Police found the 26-year-old Modesto man face down on the lawn at 1120 Ninth St., on Turlock's south side, but what led up to his death is as faded as year-old pen on paper.

"But just because time goes on, it doesn't mean we forget about these things or we will go away," said Turlock police Detective Doug Ravaglioli.

The neighborhood around Ninth and Elmwood Court was known to the police. A week before Sanchez was shot, the house that shares the lawn where he was found was raided by the Special Weapons and Tactics team. Officers busted through the front door while answering a call of a possible home invasion.

Man with a gun dropped by

Sanchez was on the outs with his family and staying at the Ninth Street home, which, Ravaglioli said, was known as a party spot.

Sanchez had sectioned off part of the garage by hanging sheets and was watching movies with a friend known only as "Tamara," Ravaglioli said. That's when Sergio Mendoza, 27, of Turlock came by the house and showed everyone his gun, the detective said.

Just before 4 a.m., Mendoza made a pass at Tamara, police think, and he and Sanchez got into a fight. There's even "a possibility it was self-defense because of the bruises on the body and indication that Marcus was angry ... , " Ravaglioli said. "He could have been defending his female friend's honor."

But no one saw the fight. No one saw the gun go off. Mendoza was alone with Tamara when he made the advance, Ravaglioli said, and she stormed off. That's when Sanchez came outside, then the fight, then gunshots.

Police served a warrant hours after the shooting at the Geer Road apartment that Mendoza shared at the time with his pregnant wife, Nichol French. Police now think Mendoza holed up in Atwater before friends moved him south to Mexico. French spoke with police shortly after the killing, but after cooperating at first, she and her newborn disappeared.

It might take another border crossing before anyone knows what really happened that September night.

The family turns to religion

Sanchez left behind a young wife, April, and two children.

Questions and information, usually false, about her husband's death come and go. Rumors have circulated from the reasonable to the far-fetched, such as that he was killed on Elmwood Court in the house police had raided the week before and dragged outside -- "tweaker drama," the detective called it.

Born and raised in Modesto, and with a family in Ceres, there wasn't a reason for Sanchez to be in Turlock, April Sanchez said. It wasn't his normal crowd.

The family found out about the death through a grapevine of friends and cousins. Without a wallet, police couldn't identify him. The 25-year-old widow matched up her late husband's tattoos.

"If I wasn't going to church, I wouldn't be sane," April Sanchez said Friday.

Hugo, their 8-year-old son, probably took it the worst. He still says things like, "remember when Dad and I ... " and still sheds tears at night, his mother said. Things have gotten better, though, and the whole family, like mom, has turned to religion's comforts.

"They say the first year is the worst when you lose someone you love," said Sanchez's mother, Verna Carpenter. "This year, I just existed."

Memorial is today

A mother's tears last the longest. There were times when she stripped her bed and washed her sheets only to sleep on the mattress for a week.

"He was sunshine," Carpenter said. "His smile lit our day up."

Today will be a hard day for the family. April Sanchez will coach Hugo's first soccer game and then go to a memorial barbecue to remember her late husband.

"You don't think it will happen to you, and when it does you look for an excuse or reason," she said. "But you can't blame. You really can't. I don't know what happened. I probably never will."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.