Jeremy Anthony Mendivil walked into the courtroom Tuesday, nodded at his brother Johnathan, who was on trial for murder, and told a jury how the older sibling pulled out a shotgun and shot to death a 15-year-old kid he’d tussled with a couple weeks earlier.
Until last week, Jeremy sat next to Johnathan at the defense table, before prosecutors gave him a voluntary manslaughter deal in exchange for his testimony against his brother. Jeremy on Tuesday reluctantly delivered on his end and provided the jury the view from the front line on Dec. 31, 2010, the evening that Johnathan admittedly gunned down Elijah Stacy Cook.
Twelve days before the killing, Johnathan Isaac Mendivil, now 24, worked as a cashier at the Walgreens at 24th Street and Florin Road. On his shift, he got jumped by a group of youths who came into the store. Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker said the trouble began with an exchange of tough stares. Assistant Public Defender Amy Rogers said in court papers that Mendivil caught the group shoplifting.
The clash left Mendivil with a few staples in his head and a desire for revenge, the DA said. Sometime after 9 o’clock on the New Year’s Eve night of the killing, the prosecution says Mendivil got word one of the rivals from the Walgreens fight was hanging out on 29th Street. He and Jeremy Mendivil drove over to take a look.
“All of a sudden, we hear somebody yelling and screaming,” Jeremy Mendivil, now 22, testified. “My brother noticed he was one of the guys who jumped (him).”
Jeremy Mendivil said he got out of the car, at 29th Street and Gardendale Road, and confronted a teenager the authorities identified as Elijah Cook.
“I asked Elijah why he jumped my brother like that,” Jeremy Mendivil told the jury, and he further testified that the teenager angrily responded, “I’ll jump you, too,” before Cook took off his jacket and the two of them went at it in the street.
“All of a sudden, my brother came up behind us and said, ‘Watch out!’ like he was scared,” Jeremy Mendivil said. “He told me to step back, and I stepped back, because I didn’t know what was going on, and John shot him two times, in the leg and the head.”
Despite his description of the killing, the younger brother did not deliver as clean an overall story as the prosecution would have liked.
The witness, who began his testimony with an admission that he loved his brother “with all my heart,” sounded at times like he might have been trying to help Johnathan Mendivil’s cause.
At the outset of his testimony, Jeremy Mendivil suggested that the trip to 29th Street was fairly innocent. He said he had been working on cars with two of his brothers at a house on the other side of Highway 99, where Johnathan Mendivil had been staying with his girlfriend, when they got word of a party on 29th Street. It was the party, and maybe somebody’s car they heard was at the festivities, that drew them to the neighborhood, Jeremy Mendivil said.
Asker asked Jeremy Mendivil why he didn’t mention the party and the car to Sacramento police detectives when they interviewed him two days after the killing. Mendivil said he didn’t think of it until his brother upbraided him in court two months after their arrest for telling the cops the two of them had gone looking for somebody before they found and killed Elijah Cook.
In her court papers, Rogers, the public defender, said the killing was a matter of self-defense. When the brothers came across Elijah Cook and Jeremy Mendivil jumped out to fight him, Rogers said Johnathan Mendivil believed the youth was armed with a knife. She wrote that Johnathan Mendivil was “fearing for his life” when he grabbed the shotgun and fired on Cook.
“So, Jeremy,” Rogers asked the witness on cross-examination, “none of this was planned, right?”
“Not at all,” the younger Mendivil replied.
Jeremy Mendivil was promised a 12-year term in exchange for his guilty plea. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 31 by Judge Allen H. Sumner, who also is hearing the trial for Jonathan Mendivil.
Editor’s note (Oct. 1): This story has been corrected to reflect that Thomas Asker is a deputy district attorney. A previous version said he was a defense attorney.