Twelve years after the death of Alma Lisette Peralta, a 19-year-old Turlock woman, the man suspected of carrying out her execution-style murder is behind bars.
Rene Mendoza was in court on Wednesday on charges of shooting Peralta in the head with a shot gun. He is also accused of the attempted murder of Jose Saucedo, Peralta's cousin who was shot in the chest the same night. Mendoza's bail was set at $2 million.
“We requested that amount of bail for the murder charge plus an enhancement,” said Brad Nix, a prosecutor with the Stanislaus County District Attorney's office.
Peralta's body was found at 3 a.m. on July 2, 1998 in the front yard of a residence on Angelus Street. Her body was found 10 feet from the curb, and she had been shot execution style, according to Turlock Journal articles from that time.
“She was a human being and he killed her like she was an animal,” said Alicia Morales, Alma Peralta's mother, as translated through her son, Tony Peralta.
Mendoza was caught by immigration officials when he attempted to cross into the U.S. somewhere in Texas. Officials ran his fingerprints and found a warrant out for Mendoza's arrest in connection with the murder of Alma Peralta. He was arrested and is currently being held in the Stanislaus County jail.
“Mendoza has been a suspect in this case since shortly after the crime occurred,” said Turlock Police Capt. Mike Langston.
Nix said that there were two warrants issued in the case, and one warrant is still outstanding.
No witnesses initially came forward in the case, but the police did receive a tip that led to the search of a Turlock residence. Based on that search in 1998, police confirmed that the crimes were drug related.
Peralta lived in the immediate area of the home where her body was found. She was unarmed at the time that she was shot. She left behind a young daughter. Her family said that they are grateful that someone is finally being held responsible for Alma's murder.
“I hope they give him what he deserves,” Morales said.
Tony Peralta said that he had lost faith in law enforcement, and did not think his sister's killer would ever be found. Now that at least one suspect will stand trial, the family can find a sense of closure in Alma's death.
“It’s always hard to say goodbye to our loved ones because their dreams and promises die with them. It’s like reading a good book — we’re reluctant to finish the last page. But the memories of them are written well within our lives. They are the things that can’t be taken from us,” Tony Peralta said.
Mendoza's arraignment is scheduled for July 26.
— Kristina Hacker contributed to this article.
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