Mendoza sentenced to 12-18 years for manslaughter; Victim’s mother calls the murder a hate crime

(Lander, Wyo.) – Ninth District Court Judge Norman E. Young has sentenced Santana Mendoza to a total of 12-18 years for the September 2013 manslaughter of David Moss Jr. and the assault of Aleeah Crispin.

The result came after a more than one hour long sentencing hearing in which testimony was heard by from family members of the victims and Crispin herself.

The sentencing covers 12-18 years for the manslaughter charge and 8-10 years for the assault charge. The sentences will run concurrently, and Mendoza was given credit for 292 days of incarceration so far. The judge also allowed for a recommendation to the boot camp program should the Department of Corrections deem it appropriate. Mendoza will share in more than $12,000 in restitution with his co-defendant John Potter. Potter received a near identical sentence in April. Both pleaded guilty to the charges earlier this year.

Victoria Moss, David Moss Jr.’s mother, spoke and said she believed the murder of her son was a hate crime. She said David was a gay Native American and that the justice handed down by the court indicated that a gay Native American’s life is worth less than a gay white man’s life. Speaking of National Pride Month, she said, “This Saturday I will be celebrating the pride I have for my gay son.”

The news of her son’s sexual orientation came as a surprise to several in the court. Mendoza’s attorney, Sky Phifer, said that in hundreds of pages of police reports in the case not once was it mentioned. “I did not know until today that Mr. Moss was gay,” he said.

Judge Young also took issue with the suggestion that Moss being gay affected his acceptance of the plea agreement. He said that until this afternoon he had “never even heard a whisper that Mr. Moss was gay.” Young said emphatically that he rejects the notion that he accepted the plea agreement because Moss was a gay Native American.

Crispin told the court, and her father mentioned it as well, that she suffers from short term memory loss due to the brain damage she incurred in the attack. She spoke of waking up in the hospital, not knowing what happened and how now after 30 minutes it’s hard for her to remember what had just happened. Crispin said she was working on finding forgiveness. “I really feel for the boys and their families because they’re really really young,” she said. Later, looking at Mendoza, she said, “I do appreciate your honesty.”

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett argued for the maximum sentences allowed under the plea agreement, 18-20 years for the manslaughter and 8-10 for the assault. Phifer, calling his client’s actions “juvenile, stupid, senseless,” made no argument on sentence length but asked for rehabilitation consideration.

After the attorneys made their arguments, Mendoza made a tearful request for forgiveness from his family, the victims’ families and the court. He called his actions stupid and inexcusable.