A Merced County judge has found ample evidence to try a 21-year-old man for involuntary manslaughter in the July 4 shooting death of his girlfriend.
Fabio Mendonca, 21, faces up to four years in prison, if convicted, for fatally shooting 20-year-old Mirisa Dinwiddie in the face with a shotgun at a residence near Griffith and Schendel avenues in Delhi.
Judge Mark Bacciarini decided to move the case forward to trial after hearing testimony from law enforcement and witnesses during a preliminary hearing last week.
Prosecutor Steven Slocum recently amended the charge in the case from voluntary manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter. When Mendonca was first arrested, he was being held on suspicion of murder.
Slocum said he does believe the shooting was unintentional, and there's evidence Mendonca and the victim both had been playing with the gun before it went off.
Much of the case is based upon witness statements from Mendonca’s 10-year-old brother and the victim's aunt, Terry Wilson. Slocum said the 10-year-old testified during the preliminary hearing Mendonca had walked toward Dinwiddie with the gun, and she pulled the barrel toward her face, kidding around and saying something along the lines of "shoot me." Mendonca tried to pull the gun away from Dinwiddie’s face, when the gun went off, according to the boy’s testimony.
Wilson, however, told a slightly different story to deputies, saying Mendonca had placed the gun in Dinwiddie's face before it went off.
Regardless of whose statement is more accurate, Slocum said the defendant was ultimately criminally negligent. "He was the one in control of the shotgun, he was the one who should have been responsible for it," Slocum said, adding "There's never a safe time to point a shotgun in the direction of another person."
On the flip side, defense attorney John Garcia said the shooting was an accident, and doesn't warrant prison time. He pointed out the 10-year-old brother testified about seeing Mendonca unload the gun before the shooting happened.
Garcia said the victim's family has been very supportive of Mendonca, and doesn't want to see him go to prison.
Garcia said his client and Dinwiddie's family have been "healing" together and supporting one another through a tragic ordeal. "I am still not convinced any crime was committed here," Garcia said. “The victim's family is satisfied that it was a horrible, horrible accident."
If convicted, Mendonca, a citizen of Portugal, could be deported. "Certainly before I would consider a plea agreement, I want to ensure or give him as many protections as I can against deportation," Garcia said.
Mendonca remains free on his own recognizance. His next court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.