BILLINGS, Mont. – A Wyoming man pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of second-degree murder and other crimes for shooting a couple and wounding their daughter when the family tried to help him along a road on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation.
Jesus Deniz Mendoza, 19, faces life in prison under an agreement reached last month with federal prosecutors in which he acknowledged killing Jason and Tana Shane and wounding their daughter in July 2015. Mendoza was 18 at the time.
"I was pulled over by the side of the road and some Native Americans came and assisted me," Mendoza testified Tuesday. "I knowingly shot them, got in their car and drove away."
Mendoza also acknowledged that he returned later in the Shanes' car and shot at three people who had responded to the initial gunshots and the daughter's calls for help.
He offered no motive but told FBI agents after his arrest that he shot the victims because he was "getting tired of waiting around and because the daughter laughed at him," according to court documents.
Assistant Federal Defender David Merchant II, Mendoza's attorney, denied prosecutors' claims that Mendoza asked the Shanes for money when they tried to help him and the family said they did not have any.
Merchant has said his client had schizophrenia, depression and other mental illnesses and had ingested a "considerable amount" of the synthetic drug spice before his arrest. Further specifics on when he took the drug have not been revealed.
Prior to the plea agreement, Merchant unsuccessfully sought to have Mendoza declared mentally incompetent. The defense attorney later said Mendoza would use an insanity defense if the case went to trial.
Under questioning from U.S. District Judge Susan Watters, Mendoza said he has been taking daily doses of the prescribed medication Seroquel. That's an antidepressant used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental conditions, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Mendoza is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, Merchant said. He moved to the U.S. as a child and testified that prior to his arrest, he had worked as a field laborer and grocery store bagger.
Watters has the final decision on sentencing, set for Aug. 10. There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system.
Mendoza faces a separate accusation of attempted second-degree murder in Wyoming, where authorities say he shot a man at a campground near a small town during a 2013 robbery attempt. That case is pending.
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