Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer discusses suspected domestic violence death
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer Wednesday reported the arrests of two men in unrelated murders that took place in the city in the last two weeks — one of a 14-month-old baby who died of internal trauma and the second a 50-year-old woman who was stabbed in the back.
Arrested were Kenneth Johnson, 30, and David Pena, 49.
Dyer said Johnson was taken into custody after he confessed Tuesday evening to the death of the child, which took place Nov. 20. Police became aware of the child’s death when they were called to Saint Agnes Medical Center, where the child, Jose Luis Espinosa, was taken from an apartment in the 5200 block of North Sixth Street.
An autopsy by the Fresno County Coroner determined that the child died from internal trauma. Dyer said Johnson, the boyfriend of the boy’s 20-year-old, live-in babysitter, initially told detectives that he did not harm the boy.
However, in a second, three-hour interview Tuesday night, he admitted punching the child in the stomach after becoming frustrated by the baby’s crying. The mother of the baby was in Modesto at the time of the incident, Dyer said.
The second homicide was discovered by officers Tuesday after they were asked by the California Highway Patrol to assist in a missing person investigation involving Martha Mendiola, 50.
Dyer said the CHP went to a home in the 2000 block of West Sussex Way to check on the welfare of Mendiola. The victim’s son was then called to the scene and found blood in the garage.
While several calls to Mendiola’s phone when unanswered, Dyer said one text was returned with the reply, “need to get some time alone.”
The CHP was able to trace the cellphone of Pena, Mendiola’s husband, to an address on East Simpson Avenue just west of Fresno Street. There, police detectives found Mendiola’s car and inside, her body in the back seat, covered by a tarp. She had been stabbed in the back.
At a police interview Tuesday night, Dyer said Pena “provided admissions” that led to murder charges being filed against him.
The chief said the death of Mendiola is the city’s fifth domestic violence death this year. He said that her coworkers were aware of problems in the marriage and it is believed that she broke away from Pena several weeks ago.
Officers were called to the couple’s home in 2014 after it was reported that Mendiola and her husband had pushed one another, but neither wanted to pursue the matter with police. The chief cautioned that domestic violence issues do not resolve themselves and usually the violence worsens after police are called.
There have been 37 murders in the city this year, the same number at this time last year.