Judge undaunted as lawyers haggle over $1 million bail for man accused of murdering St. George teen

ST. GEORGE — The man suspected in the shooting death of a St. George teen appeared in court Monday to request a reduction in his $1 million bail.

Nicanor Vasquez-Mendoza, booking photo posted in Washington County, Utah, Aug. 15, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Nicanor Vasquez-Mendoza, 32, of St. George, appeared in 5th District Court for a bail reduction hearing. He faces one count of first-degree felony murder and multiple other charges that include second-degree felony drug possession with intent to distribute and obstruction of justice.

The defendant’s charges stem from a shooting reported Aug. 14 at a residence on 2700 East that resulted in the death of 18-year-old Skyler Armstrong. Responders arrived to find Armstrong inside of the home suffering from a gunshot wound. The teen was transported to the hospital where he died shortly thereafter. Police say Vasquez-Mendoza shot Armstrong and attempted to cover up the alleged crime.

Defense attorney Ken Combs requested that bail be reduced on behalf of his client, who has extended family as well as a wife and children living in the area and has no prior felony convictions the attorney was aware of.

Combs said his client’s bail was substantially lower initially, but the bail was doubled to $1 million when “someone called into the court, or somehow it got relayed” that Vasquez-Mendoza has “cartel connections — which he does not.”

Combs explained that the defendant had an older brother who was killed by a cartel in another country, noting that “they (cartels) kill a lot of people, not just those in the business.”

While acknowledging the charge of murder is very serious, Combs said his client is still entitled to a reasonable bail amount because he is “presumably innocent of the charges” until proven guilty.

“Well, he is presumably innocent for purposes of trial,” District Judge John Walton said. “But not for purposes of bail.”

District Judge John J. Walton in court proceedings at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Sept. 26, 2019 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Combs countered, saying his client’s position is that he’s not guilty and requested that the court reduce the bail to a reasonable amount. The defendant’s bail was originally set at $500,000 cash or bond, according to court records.

Bail was raised after the jail received a call from an unnamed source saying that someone was coming from California to pay the $500,000. The information was relayed to police and then to the prosecutor who made the request to double it.

Combs said he was not aware of anyone coming from California to pay the bail and that the call could have come from an inmate at the jail for all anyone knew.

Prosecutor Ryan Shaum said $1 million bail is appropriate, explaining that the defendant “presents a danger to the community,” supported by the fact that immediately after the murder, he admittedly “took his methamphetamine and his AR-15 and fled the scene.”

Shaum argued that Vasquez-Mendoza’s ties to Mexico and the fact that he is not a U.S. citizen makes him a flight risk, adding that the defendant’s attempts to influence witnesses immediately after the shooting supports the state’s position that he a danger to both the witnesses and the community.

In response, Combs said the shooting did not rise to the level of an intentional act, as the high bail amount would reflect, and that if anything, it was reckless, but not intentional, as police have said.

After hearing the arguments, Walton ordered the bail to remain as-is, saying the ruling was “without prejudice,” meaning it can be changed in another court or by another judge at their discretion.

The defendant is scheduled to be back in court for a status review hearing Nov. 12.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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