Mendota double murder suspect pleads not guilty

FRESNO, Calif.

Yobanni Bonilla pleaded "not guilty" Friday to two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. Action News broke the story of Bonilla's arrest on Tuesday.

Fresno County sheriff's detectives believe Bonilla was trying to escape to his native El Salvador when they caught him near the Mexican border. But the suspect's attorneys say that's not necessarily the act of a guilty man.

Bonilla stands alone as the only person charged in the murders of Rene and Daniel Leon -- the brothers gunned down while attending their aunt's birthday party in Mendota.

A judge wouldn't allow us to get video of Bonilla's face as he pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. His attorneys say that's because prosecutors are pinning the murders on the wrong person.

"The identification is weak," said public defender Margarita Martinez-Baly. "As you heard today, this is why we asked the court not to allow cameras because there's an identification issue. And I think once this is all sorted out, it's going to be clear that he is not the shooter."

Court documents obtained by Action News show Bonilla was identified as one of four uninvited guests at a party attended by the third Leon brother, Freddy. But Freddy could not identify Bonilla as one of the two men who opened fire at a second party -- the one where Rene and Daniel were murdered.

After chasing the gunmen from the party to a neighborhood about a mile away, another man was shot and wounded. He has since recovered and identified Bonilla as the shooter. But, defense attorneys say they're ready to fight the charges.

"We intend to put on an aggressive defense," said Martinez-Baly. "He's a very young man with no history -- no criminal history."

A check of court records reveals Bonilla's criminal history was empty, until this week. Now, he's wearing the red Fresno County jail jumpsuit -- charged with the most serious crime possible.

Prosecutors said Friday they'll file special circumstances along with the murder charges, meaning Bonilla could be facing the death penalty if he's convicted.

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