Killer awaits his punishment for teenage act

February 8, 2013 3:27:15 PM PST
All a convicted killer can do is sit and wait. The Fort Bend County jury that found him guilty of killing his high school classmate is now deciding whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison for Christopher Daigle's murder.

The jury began deliberations Friday afternoon. Because of the laws on the books at the time of the murder in 2002, Richard Mendoza, Jr., could be given anything from life in prison to probation.

Mendoza showed no change in emotion as his mother tearfully testified Friday morning, asking the jury for leniency. His attorney tried to paint him as a reserved, trustworthy 28-year-old man -- a stark contrast to the irrational 17-year-old who killed Daigle in a Fort Bend County field in 2002, believing 17-year-old Daigle had kissed his girlfriend.

"There's a reason why we don't let 17-year-olds vote, there's a reason why we don't allow 17-year-olds to purchase alcohol ? maturity," Craig Hughes, Mendoza's attorney, said to the jury.

Mendoza's former girlfriend, Megan Venable, has long felt somehow responsible for Daigle's death. She was friends with him but insists it was never anything more.

"I think about it every day of my life," she said. "I've been wondering when this is going to happen."

On Friday she testified about her relationship with Mendoza, when she was just 14 and he was 17 -- an age span that could be considered under the law to have been a sexual assault of a child. She got pregnant and had an abortion. Prosecutors used that new information to help portray Mendoza is someone who ignores the law.

"He committed the cowardly act of shooting Christopher Daigle in back of the head with a shotgun," prosecutor Sherry Robinson told the jury.

For more than a decade, no one knew what happened to Daigle. His family was left to wonder while Mendoza walked free for 10 years. Prosecutors asked the jury to send him a message with their verdict.

"It's time to tell him, it's time to pay for your crime, there is a punishment," Robinson said. "There are consequences."

If Mendoza is sentenced to prison, he could become eligible for parole after serving half his sentence or 30 years, whichever is less.