Lack of witnesses means less charges for two originally charged with murder
By Sara Belsole
COLUMBUS, GA – 25-year-old Jorge Mendoza pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault Wednesday in connection to the shooting death of 40-year-old Alton Tucker.
Officials say Mendoza and then 19-year-old Christian Ulloa approached Tucker in a car at the Plateau Drive trailer park to buy drugs in June 2011. That's when officials say an altercation occurred and Tucker was shot multiple times.
Both Mendoza and Ulloa were initially charged with murder, but those charges were downgraded to aggravated assault.
The Prosecution and Defense say key witnesses who made statements to the police after the shooting were no where to be found when it came time to prepare for trial. Something, both sides say hurt their cases.
“Some of the witnesses that are missing helped Mr. Mendoza, they backed up his story,” Defense Attorney Robert Wadkins, Jr. says.
“To my frustration, they were not able to be found. We believe two have left the country and the other one has fled the state,” Prosecutor William Hocutt III says.
No witnesses meant no murder charges for the state.
“This is by far in my career the most frustrating case I have ever had to deal with,” Hocutt says.
Also frustrated, Tucker's family.
“I think they would have liked to see a different outcome and I completely understand that.” Hocutt says.
Officials say Mendoza initially told police Ulloa was the triggerman, and he had no idea Ulloa was even carrying a gun at the time of the shooting.
Ulloa, who fled the country after the shooting, was brought back to Columbus this summer. He pleaded guilty Monday and was sentenced to serve three and a half years behind bars.
“We felt my client, Mr, Mendoza's, culpability was less than his codefendant,” Wadkins says.
Judge John Allen also sentenced Mendoza to serve three and a half years, saying “I wish it could be more.”
“I believe Mr. Mendoza is an illegal alien so I believe he will de deported,” Hocutt says.
Officials say Ulloa claims to be a naturalized citizen, but under law he is also subject to deportation.