Homicide suspect attacks public defender
Mistrial declared after courtroom outburst
A mistrial has been declared in the murder trial of a Watsonville man after he reportedly attacked his public defender during court Monday. The man was in court for stabbing a Tulare woman to death in May 2010.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department reports that Rafael Mendoza, 29, was in court starting his third week of jury trial in the death of 25-year-old Juliana Bravo and various other related charges. Authorities say that as the jury began to enter the courtroom Monday, Mendoza produced a makeshift weapon and cut his public defender’s face.
The public defender, identified as John Shepard, is a seven-year veteran with the Tulare County Public Defender’s Office.
Authorities report that the deputy assigned as the courtroom bailiff and Tulare police officers that were in the Visalia court were able to detain Mendoza and render first aid to Shepard.
Sergeant Chris Douglass with the Sheriff’s department said Shepard was treated at an area hospital and later released.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department Violent Crimes and Forensic Investigations Unit were called to take over the investigation of the case.
Once a case is declared a mistrial, a new trial needs to take place, said Shani Jenkins, Tulare County Assistant District Attorney. In Mendoza’s case, he may face additional charges.
“The Sheriff’s department is investigating the new case. They will evaluate that and submit it to us to determine whether or not charges can be filed,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins added that though they were going into the third week of trial, actual court time had been about eight days.
“The trial was almost completed and we’re going to have to start another trial, find another jury, put the witnesses on again and obviously there is a cost to all this,” she said.
The parties are set to return to court Wednesday to evaluate the case and possibly set another trial date, Jenkins said.
This is the second time in less than a week that a person in custody attacks a county official during court proceedings.
On Nov. 1, a former Tulare County Sheriff’s deputy who was found guilty of child molestation reportedly assaulted the case’s lead investigator and attempted to grab her service weapon during his verdict.
Michael Risenhoover, 34 of Pixley, was restrained by bailiffs, tased and removed from the courtroom after he allegedly grabbed the detective, who was sitting some feet away and managed to reach for her neck and tried to grab her weapon.