A Mexican national in the United States illegally pleaded guilty on Nov. 5 to the 2018 murder of a Fiji-born California police officer, as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
Paulo Virgen Mendoza, a 33-year-old Mexican national, was sentenced to life without parole after admitting to the shooting and killing of Fiji-born Cpl. Ronil Singh of the tiny Newman Police Department during a traffic stop on Dec. 26, 2018.
He also admitted to multiple special circumstances and the use of a gun under a deal with Stanislaus County prosecutors that will spare him the death penalty. In May, the district attorney’s office said that it would seek the death penalty if Virgen Mendoza was convicted.
The police officer was shot by Virgen Mendoza after he was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence, investigators said.
“The one fortunate thing for you, sir, is you are not going to be facing the death penalty, but you will never see the light of day outside the prison walls based on this conviction,” Ricardo Córdova, the presiding Stanislau County judge said Thursday.
Singh’s widow, Anamika Singh-Chand, broke down in tears during the hearing as she described his passion for his job, and of how Virgen Mendoza tore her and her son’s lives apart the day after Christmas Day.
“He loved his American dream of becoming a police officer,” she said. “He wanted his son to also be a police officer.”
She told Virgen Mendoza that he “tore away my dreams … tore my love away from me and left me silently screaming.”
“I have lost my biggest support system. My son will never be able to receive his father’s love,” she added.
She said she thinks Virgen Mendoza deserved the death penalty, but would accept a life sentence without parole.
California has not executed anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium on executions so long as he is governor.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said that the 33-year-old had previously been arrested twice for drunk driving incidents, but that he couldn’t be deported due to California’s sanctuary law which forbids local law enforcement in most cases from cooperating with federal immigration authorities to identify and deport undocumented immigrants.
After Singh’s murder, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that it is “time to get tough on Border Security” and “Build the Wall!”
“There is right now a full-scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police officer during a traffic stop,” he said on Twitter at the time.
“You will live with those consequences for the rest of your life. I hope that every morning when you wake up, you think about what happened and why you’re here, why you’re in prison,” Judge Córdova said.
“That is a pain you will have, a pain your family will have, but the pain is a lot greater for the Singh family.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.