Crime - Sacto 911

Mother of slain teen forgives his killers

Elijah Cook was slain at age 15.
Elijah Cook was slain at age 15. Cook family

She lost it when he lost it, and he lost it when they showed the video montage of the life of her slain child – the one he helped kill.

Amid the tears in Judge Allen H. Sumner’s courtroom Friday in Sacramento, forgiveness was bestowed upon Jeremy Mendivil by Michelle Cook-Berry, the mother of the murdered 15-year-old Elijah Cook.

“He showed remorse from the beginning of this, from day one,” Cook-Berry said of Mendivil. “He has a good heart. I believe he has a good heart. I don’t know, but he had a hard time watching the video. When he broke down, I broke down, and it made me want to go hug him.”

Mendivil, who is now 22, took a voluntary manslaughter deal in the Dec. 31, 2010, shooting death of Cook on 29th Street in the Meadowview area.

In exchange, Mendivil had to testify against his 24-year-old brother, Johnathan, who pulled a shotgun trigger on Cook in retaliation for a beating the older Mendivil suffered when he was working his cashier’s job at the Walgreens on 24th Street and Florin Road a couple weeks earlier.

A Sacramento Superior Court jury on Oct. 20 convicted Johnathan Mendivil of second-degree murder. He faces a prison term of 40 years to life and is scheduled to be sentenced by Sumner on Nov. 17.

According to Jeremy Mendivil’s probation report, the defendants grew up in difficult circumstances. They were taken from their drug-abusing mother 12 years ago and were raised over the years by assorted relatives.

The day of the killing, they were driving around the Meadowview area when they recognized Cook on the street from the Walgreens beating. Jeremy testified that he got out of the car to fight Cook and that while the two of them were going at it when Johnathan came out with a shotgun and murdered the teen.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker said at Friday’s sentencing that Jeremy Mendivil “did something very good in this case. He showed remorse.” The younger Mendivil also led police to where the brothers threw the shotgun into the Sacramento River.

“Those were good things,” Asker said. “There is hope for him in the future.”

But Asker also said “this was a planned murder” and that Jeremy pulled back in his trial testimony from what he had told detectives beforehand. Jeremy’s revised account that he and his brother were going to a party when they spotted Cook out of nowhere amounted to perjury, according to the prosecutor.

Still, Asker said, “In the big scheme of things, this is a just sentence for Jeremy Mendivil.”

Defense attorney Frances Huey said the killing took place out of “happenstance,” that in joining Johnathan on New Year’s Eve four years ago, if anything, Jeremy “went along with his brother to fight,” not to kill.

In his statement to the court, Jeremy Mendivil told Cook’s mother and father, who were seated a few rows behind him, that he was “very sorry” for his role in the death.

“I want to say I’m sorry to Elijah, too,” he said.

Judge Sumner, after Jeremy Mendivil’s emotional display in the courtroom, told him, “You are sincere in your remorse” and “Other than the victim’s family, I’m sure nobody wishes that day could be done over more than you do. But you are where you are.”

With time credits, Jeremy Mendivil is likely to be released from prison within the next six years, Asker said.

Outside the courtroom, Cook-Berry recalled her son as a typically imperfect 15-year-old who got into his share of trouble but who also showed major smarts.

“He was so intelligent,” she said. “I took him down to (Sacramento City) college so he could take classes while he was in high school, and he tested out of English and math. He didn’t like English and math. He was just really good at them.”

Cook-Berry said her 6-foot-4 son loved to skateboard and did very well in competitions.

The mother was with her son and two other youths the night they got into it with Johnathan Mendivil at Walgreens. She said she left the store while the fight was underway.

“My biggest regret is that I didn’t stay there until the police arrived, which would have allowed Elijah to get arrested,” Cook-Berry said. “He’d still be alive today.”

She and her husband, William Berry, said their son had taken a religious turn in life from the time of his participation in the Johnathan Mendivil beating to his own death.

“He rededicated his life to God,” Cook-Berry said.

As for the Mendivils, “For the last two years I have been praying for Johnathan and Jeremy that God would work a miracle in their hearts, that God would soften their hearts and have his will in their lives,” she said.

“I have forgiven them.”

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916)321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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