Three from Kern County charged with helping accused cop killer Pablo Virgen Mendoza

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KFSN) -- One by one, each standing next to their own attorney, Bernabe Castaneda, Maria Moreno, and Erasmo Villegas pleaded not guilty to the felony accessory charges filed against them.

Kern County Prosecutors say all three helped accused cop killer Pablo Mendoza while he was on the run from law enforcement last week.

They were arrested at this home near Lamont on Friday-the site where Mendoza surrendered to SWAT deputies.

"I will tell you that it is illegal to harbor someone when they are running from the law," said Kern County Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer. "You cannot do that and that is a felony. And so we reviewed the case with that in mind and saw that there were facts that justified filing against those three individuals for harboring someone who was running from committing a homicide," said Kern County Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer.

The accessory charges carry a maximum of three years in prison, but Kern County Prosecutor Cynthia Zimmer confirmed all three suspects are facing federal charges as well.

A federal affidavit written by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations alleges all three defendants conspired to harbor Mendoza-that federal charge carries a 20-year maximum sentence.

The affidavit also alleges they conspired to have him travel in foreign commerce from California to Mexico-a charge that carries a five year prison term.

The document reveals that Castaneda and Moreno are married, and that Mendoza is a distant family member.

Villegas is his former co-worker.

Federal authorities say he gave Mendoza clothes to conceal his identity, plus $500 for his escape to Mexico.

All three defendants will be back in court on January 15th for their preliminary hearing and are being held on $1 million bail.

At this point, it's unclear who will prosecute them--the Kern County DA's office or the US Attorney's Office.
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