BILLINGS – Before handing down a life sentence to the Wyoming man who executed a Pryor couple in 2015, a federal judge called the killer a “ticking time bomb” that was just waiting to go off.
Jesus Deniz Mendoza, 20, was sentenced in U.S. District Court on Thursday to life in prison plus 60 years for the murders of Tana and Jason Shane.
David Merchant, Mendoza’s defense attorney, requested a sentence of 60 years plus one day each for the two murder victims, their daughter who was shot, and the collective other victims who were fired upon by Mendoza.
“To say the lives of Jason and Tana Shane are worth one day each is grossly insufficient,” said John Sullivan, the prosecutor.
Judge Susan Watters agreed, calling Mendoza’s crimes among the worst she had ever seen as a judge.
The victims were driving when they saw Mendoza stranded alongside the road in Pryor. The Shanes stopped to help Mendoza and even offered him a ride to Billings, according to Watters.
“(The victims) acted as everyone hopes people in their community would act,” said Watters.
Mendoza ordered the couple out of the car at gunpoint, told them to walk away, and shot them each in the back of the head.
“You repaid their kindness by executing them,” said Watters.
Mendoza then drove off in the couple’s vehicle and returned to open fire on their daughter and witnesses who came to help. The couple’s daughter suffered a gunshot wound to the back but survived.
“Simply by the grace of God, you don’t have six victims, even though you likely intended to,” said Watters.
The family of the victims testified that the deaths have not only ruined their lives, but has hurt the entire Crow tribe.
“You have ruined their grand kids’ lives, my life and our tribe,” said Clara Hugs, the victim’s mother.
At an earlier competency hearing, attorneys for Mendoza noted that he heard voices and dealt with schizophrenia. Doctors testified that the schizophrenia and other mental disorders were largely due to Mendoza’s severe drug and alcohol abuse.
“Your inability and unwillingness to control the demons in your head make you a danger to the community,” said Watters.
Watters said she’d reviewed the audio recording of the interview detectives had with Mendoza later the day of the shooting.
“It was chilling,” said Watters.
Watters then described a story Mendoza told investigators about how he’d returned to Mexico shortly before the shootings with the intent to see his biological mother.
Mendoza’s mother drove by and didn’t stop to speak with him, so he went to find a hammer to beat her to death with, recounted Watters.
“But you returned and found her husband there, so you decided not to,” said Watters.
Watters said Mendoza’s anger and rage are frightening and said he should never be allowed to return to society.
The judge also noted outstanding charges in Wyoming that stem from an incident where Mendoza allegedly shot a stranger at a campsite in Ten Sleep because he wanted the victim’s money.
Mendoza’s past, which apparently includes instances of sexual and physical abuse before he was adopted, was the reason prosecutors said they took the death penalty off the table.
Prior to the sentence being ordered, Mendoza told the judge he deserves to serve life in prison.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” said Mendoza. “I don’t agree with my attorneys, I agree with the prosecutors.”
Family of the victims said no matter Mendoza’s sentence, it will never be enough punishment for what he took from them.
“I will never forget and you need to never forget,” said Tammy Bigday. “That day changed so many lives forever.”
MTN’s Aja Goare