United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Richard Caputo United States District Judge
before me is the Motion for New Trial and Judgment of
Acquittal (Doc. 95) filed by Defendant Rudy Mendoza
(“Mr. Mendoza”). Following a three-day trial in
this Court, a jury found Mr. Mendoza guilty of assault with a
dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm and knowingly
possessing a prohibited object, but not guilty of conspiracy
to commit assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to do
bodily harm. Mr. Mendoza now seeks post-trial relief.
Specifically, Mr. Mendoza contends that there was
insufficient evidence to convict him of those charges and
that the jury's verdict was contrary to the weight of the
evidence. For the reasons that follow, Mr. Mendoza's
post-trial motion will be denied.
of Indictment dated April 10, 2018, Mr. Mendoza and
co-Defendant Jesus Chavez (“Mr. Chavez”) were
charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(3) (Count 1) and possession of a
prohibited object (a shank) in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1791(a)(2) (Count 2). (See Doc. 1,
generally). A Superseding Indictment was
subsequently returned by the Grand Jury on April 23, 2019.
(See Doc. 39, generally). Therein, Mr.
Mendoza and Mr. Chavez were again charged with assault with a
dangerous weapon (Count 2) and possession of a prohibited
object (Count 3), as well as conspiracy to commit assault
with a dangerous weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371
(Count 1). (See id.).
charges related to an incident that occurred on June 17, 2017
in Mr. Mendoza's cell at the United States Penitentiary
(“USP”) Canaan. Specifically, as shown on video
presented at trial, the incident began when Rogelio
Rojas-Flores (“Mr. Rojas-Flores”) approached,
uninjured, and entered Mr. Mendoza's cell, which was on
the second floor. Mr. Mendoza entered the cell as well, and
shortly thereafter he closed the cell door. Mr. Chavez
proceeded towards the cell door, where he stood for a few
minutes before entering the cell. While the inside of the
cell was not shown on video, rapid movements could be seen
through the cell door window. Several minutes passed before
Mr. Chavez and Mr. Mendoza exited the cell. Mr. Rojas-Flores
then exited bloodied and injured with numerous stab wounds.
Mr. Mendoza's cell was covered in blood and a shank was
located in the toilet therein.
trial, the Government presented video surveillance from
various camera angles of the cellblock, as well as the
testimony of several prison employees. Correction Officer
Nicholas Altofer testified that he was one of two officers
assigned to the cellblock containing Mr. Mendoza's cell
at the time of the incident. C.O. Altofer testified that he
was patrolling the lower floor when he heard noise from the
upper unit. After climbing the stairs, C.O. Altofer observed
Mr. Mendoza covered in water as though he just washed
himself. Mr. Mendoza was shirtless as he walked away from his
cell, but he was in the process of putting on a fresh shirt.
C.O. Altofer also testified to encountering Mr. Rojas-Flores
as he left the cell.
Investigative Technician James Graeber also testified at
trial. Specifically, S.I. Tech Graeber testified that he
photographed Mr. Mendoza's cell, and that he retrieved
bloody clothing and the shank from the cell.
Medical Technician Michael Kabonick testified that he
examined Mr. Mendoza, Mr. Chavez, and Mr. Rojas-Flores after
the incident. As to Mr. Mendoza, he had injuries on his right
hand and thumb which EMT Kabonick said were consistent with
gripping an object. EMT Kabonick also testified that he
treated Mr. Rojas-Flores, who was sent to an outside medical
facility for treatment for puncture and laceration wounds.
was also presented at trial that following this incident, the
shank that was found in Mr. Mendoza's cell was lost by
the Bureau of Prisons. Additionally, Mr. Rojas-Flores was
deported prior to trial.
trial, Mr. Mendoza moved for the termination of his counsel
and to proceed pro se. (See Doc. 54,
generally). Following a hearing, Mr. Mendoza's
motion to proceed pro se was granted, but stand-by
counsel was appointed for trial purposes. (See Doc.
26, 2019, a jury found Mr. Mendoza guilty of assault with a
dangerous weapon and knowingly possessing a prohibited
object, but not guilty of the conspiracy charge.
(See Doc. 81, generally). Following the
verdict, counsel was appointed for Mr. Mendoza for all future
proceedings. (See Doc. 88, generally). Mr.
Mendoza then filed the instant motion for new trial and
judgment of acquittal. (See Doc. 93,
generally; Doc. 95, generally). Mr.
Mendoza's post-trial motion is now ripe for disposition.
Mendoza, as stated, seeks a new trial and a judgment of
acquittal. I will address his request for judgment of