SAN JOSE -- About a dozen grieving family members packed a courtroom Thursday to get their first look at a pair of gang-affiliated defendants charged with killing a man last month while he moved his car for early-morning street sweepers.
They also had a lot of unanswered questions about the April 3 shooting death of 25-year-old Eric Mendoza, a Yerba Buena High School alum and the father of a 6-month-old son.
"There's just been so many rumors. Who's going to tell us what really happened?" said Jasmine Maldonado, Mendoza's sister. "We want to see justice."
San Jose residents Richard James Guerrero, 21, and David Ramiro Martinez, 20, were set to appear in court Thursday in connection with what authorities say was a gang-motivated killing, though a court order to seal the case files has kept many crucial details, including a formal motive, out of public view.
Guerrero, the suspected shooter, has been charged with murder with a gang enhancement, and Martinez has been charged as an accessory. Two more men, including suspected getaway driver James Guerrero, 20, and Isaac Martinez, 19, are still being sought by police.
Police and witnesses said that around 3:30 a.m. April 3, Mendoza was been dropped off in front of his apartment near Denali Way and Lanai Avenue in East San Jose following a night shift as a machinist in Belmont. He proceeded directly to re-park his red coupe to avoid a potential street-sweeping citation. At some point while he was driving, a bullet sailed through the car and hit him, causing him to crash into a parked car.
In conversations with investigators, Maldonado and her family said they were told Mendoza was a victim of mistaken identity by gang members or associates hunting for rival gang members. Law enforcement sources affirmed the account and said there has been no evidence Mendoza was involved in gang activity.
Right after the shooting, relatives suggested Mendoza may have been targeted because he was driving a red car in a neighborhood where gang activity predominantly involves Sureño street gangs, which claim the color blue and clash with their red-bearing Norteño rivals.
The case remains under investigation, as two suspects remain at large. Mendoza's mother, Alicia Hurtado, wants clarity to close this sad chapter in her family's history with the prosecution of her son's killers.
"I'm not angry, I just want the truth. My son is in heaven. I want to move on," Hurtado said.
She is both comforted and haunted by the last words Mendoza said to her, as he dropped off his infant son, Matthew, before heading to work, calling them prophetic in many ways.
"He told me to be good and to take care of his son," Hurtado said.
Anyone who sees James Guerrero or Isaac Martinez should call 911. Those with information about the case can contact Detective Sgt. Ray Avalos or Detective Brian McDonald at 408-277-5283 or leave a tip with Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers at 408-947-STOP (7867) or with svcrimestoppers.org.
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.