Man accepts deal in shooting of fiancée

vpatton@mercedsun-star.comNovember 28, 2012 

— A 21-year-old man accused of accidentally killing his fiancée after shooting her in the face was spared time in prison this week after pleading no contest to a felony involuntary manslaughter charge.

Fabio Mendonca was arrested July 4 after he and fiancée Mirisa Dinwiddie, 20, had been playing with a shotgun at a residence near Griffith and Schendel avenues in Delhi, according to prosecutors. The gun went off, killing Dinwiddie.

Mendonca entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors on Monday, and he was sentenced to time served in jail and 36 months probation. He must provide 200 hours of community service.

Part of those community service hours must include speaking at 10 hunter safety classes about the dangers of misusing and playing with guns, according to Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum.

The rest of the community service hours will be completed at a church Mendonca and Dinwiddie attended together, Slocum said.

Slocum pointed out that Dinwiddie's family was opposed to sending Mendonca to prison for the offense.

He said he hopes Mendonca will reinforce the importance of gun safety by telling his story to prospective gun owners, particularly young people.

"If his testimony can impact one person and save a life, it would be outstanding," the prosecutor said.

Slocum said detectives who investigated the case believed the shooting was accidental.

John Garcia, Mendonca's attorney, said his client and the victim's family have both been grieving together. Garcia said the plea agreement was an adequate result for the case. Had the case gone to trial, Garcia said both families would be forced to relive the events of the shooting.

Garcia said the resolution was adequate because Mendonca has "suffered enough."

"My client has really gone through a great deal of emotional fatigue over this. He still loves (Dinwiddie), talks about her and made all of his future plans to be with her," he said.

It's still unknown whether Mendonca, a citizen of Portugal, will be deported as a convicted felon. Slocum said that decision ultimately rests with the federal government.

Still, Garcia said he doesn't believe Mendonca will be sent back to Portugal, considering the facts of the case, and that he had no prior criminal record.

Garcia said the involuntary manslaughter charge included language indicating the crime was committed through "careless intent," which makes the charge less severe.

"If I had felt there was significant danger of him being deported, we would have taken this to trial," Garcia said.

Much of the case was based upon witness statements from Mendonca's 10-year-old brother and the victim's aunt. The youngster testified during the preliminary hearing that Mendonca had walked toward Dinwiddie with the gun, and she pulled the barrel toward her face, kidding around and saying something like "shoot me." Mendonca tried to pull the gun away but it went off, according to the boy's testimony.

Dinwiddie's aunt told a slightly different story to deputies, saying Mendonca had placed the gun in Dinwiddie's face before it went off as they were playing around.

Garcia said his client had 93 days credit for time served.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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