Mendota double murder defendant blames longtime friend

September 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Two emotional witnesses talked Monday about the double murder that tore up their Mendota family.

Police say 24-year-old Yobanni Bonilla tried to skip the country after killing the Leon brothers, but he's now on trial.

Investigators who caught Bonilla near the Mexican border say he confessed to the murders. And Bonilla doesn't deny he was at the scene of the crime. But now, Bonilla says the real killer was one of his longtime friends.

"Like pow pow pow pow."

Just that fast, Elizabeth Espinoza lost two cousins. Gunmen murdered 22-year-old Rene Leon and his 15-year-old brother, Danny, with Elizabeth standing right between them.

"When I heard it, Danny and I both turned," she said. "[Another man] said get down on the floor, but by that time I ducked to my right and my little cousin fell to the floor."

Elizabeth and her brother Ramiro both broke down in tears on the witness stand Tuesday as they recalled the shooting that broke up their party, and their family.

Neither of them got a good look at who was firing the shots, but Ramiro's mind captured one important detail: There were two gunmen.

"They were standing pretty much like this," he said as he stood in a crouch on the witness stand, holding his two arms together as if aiming a gun.

Family friend Ruben Rios went a step further. After the shooting, he followed the getaway car and positively identified Yobanni Bonilla as the one of the shooters.

Detectives then tracked Bonilla to the Mexican border town of El Centro. They say he had a wad of cash, and a confession. But Bonilla's attorney says the confession was a lie.

"He had succumbed to the will of other -- as I call it, 'gangsters and wannabes' -- and that he admitted to the shooting not because he in fact shot, but because he believed in his affiliation with the gang that that's what he had to do to cover up," said defense attorney Franz Criego.

In fact, Bonilla now claims the real killer was Luis Alonso Martinez, a longtime friend seen alongside Bonilla as a fellow pallbearer at the funeral for 4-year-old murder victim Alex Mercado.

Martinez was forced to testify at a previous hearing and identified Bonilla as one of two men who opened fire on the party where the Leon brothers were killed. The other shooter has never been caught.

Bonilla faces life in prison if he's convicted. The trial is expected to be done by next week.


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