An admitted killer framed the man now on trial for first-degree murder, a defense attorney told jurors.
Defense attorney Brick Storts told jurors earlier this week that Jose Maria Elias Gonzalez-Lopez set up Manuel Ignacio Mendivil-Martinez by planting evidence and lying to police.
“What you will find and will determine was that evidence was planted to implicate Mr. Mendivil-Martinez,” Storts said.
Mendivil-Martinez stands accused of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the Nov. 2010 death of Walter Puerta-Garcia, whose corpse was found in the desert near Tucson International Airport found with multiple gunshots to the face. His body also had been torched in an effort to dispose of the remains.
Storts told jurors that Gonzalez-Lopez planted a blue bandana with Mendivil-Martinez’s DNA found near the crime scene days after the killing to make police think the defendant committed the murder.
He told the jury evidence would show the bandana was not left at the scene at the time of the crime.
Gonzalez-Lopez has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping for the killing of Puerta-Garcia. He faces as many as 42 years in prison.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Heather Siegele told jurors Gonzalez-Lopez may have pulled the trigger, but he enlisted Mendivil-Martinez and another man to help abduct the victim.
“They took him captive, bound his wrists and ankles and took him out to the desert,” Siegele said.
The trio then called a drug boss in Mexico whom they worked for and allowed Puerta-Garcia to plead for his life, Siegele said.
Mendivil-Martinez returned to the crime scene the following day with gasoline and lit the victim’s body on fire, Siegele said.
She described to the jury a complicated scenario of two rival drug lords in Mexico, which ultimately ended in Puerta-Garcia’s murder. Siegele said the victim was targeted because he was the brother of one of the drug bosses.
Siegele didn’t dispute that Gonzalez-Lopez is an admitted killer, telling jurors “ you will not like him” when he testifies later in the trial.
“No one is saying that this defendant is the only one who should be held responsible,” she said.
Arguments in the trial are expected to run into early next week.