Two men who are in the United States illegally have been convicted of helping a third man as he tried to escape to his native Mexico after killing a California police officer, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Jurors on Monday found Erik Quiroz Razo, 28, and Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, guilty of conspiring to aid and abet the latter’s brother Paulo Virgen Mendoza as he fled. They face up to five years in prison when they are sentenced Jan. 13.
The case rekindled a debate over California’s sanctuary law that limits local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. President Donald Trump used it to bolster his call for tougher border security amid a fight with congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall.
Paulo Virgen Mendoza, who is also in the U.S. illegally, was previously identified by authorities as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an alias that he used when he was arrested. He has pleaded not guilty to murder in the Dec. 26 shooting death of Cpl. Ronil Singh during a traffic stop.
Investigators say Singh of the tiny Newman Police Department suspected Mendoza of drunken driving. Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson previously said California’s sanctuary law prevented authorities from reporting him to immigration officials for possible deportation after two previous drunken driving arrests.
Authorities said several of Virgen Mendoza’s relatives or friends helped him try to flee to Mexico. They helped dispose of his truck and loaded gun or provided him with transportation, a cellphone, clothing, food and shelter. His brother arranged for a smuggler to take Paulo across the border, but he was found and arrested at a house two days after Singh’s killing.
Virgen Mendoza’s girlfriend, Ana Leydi Cervantes Sanchez, 31, was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to help her boyfriend’s attempted escape.
Jurors acquitted two others. But Erasmo Villegas Suarez, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, are still awaiting deportation proceedings, and Villegas Suarez faces additional federal charges alleging fraud involving identification documents.
Another brother, Adrian Virgen Mendoza, 26, previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and nine months in prison. Moreno’s husband, Bernabe Madrigal Castañeda, 60, also has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
They and Cervantes Sanchez are in the country illegally and will face deportation proceedings after serving their prison terms.