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Victoria courthouse security increased as high profile case involving HPL gang member gets underway

By Jessica Priest
Sept. 20, 2013 at 4:20 a.m.

Above: Deputy Sheriff Armando Daniel stands on the street corner across from the Victoria County Courthouse as a part of the extra security awaiting the arrival of a gang member being tried for murder in Victoria.

Armed deputies surrounded the Victoria courthouse Friday afternoon as they awaited the arrival of a South Texas gang member officials say is notorious for orchestrating murders from his prison cell.

Joe Mendoza, 38, had to appear for a scheduling docket before Judge Robert C. Cheshire at 1:30 p.m.

His Oct. 2 trial was canceled beforehand, but it was unclear Friday afternoon when it would be rescheduled.

In a 10-page indictment issued in July 2011, Mendoza, also known as Loco, was charged with three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and five counts of engaging in organized criminal activity.

The state alleged he conspired as a member of the Hermanos Pisteleros Latinos gang and ordered five murders between the years of 2001 and 2006.

Only three of the hits were carried out.

Two men caught bullets meant for another, according to court records.

Mendoza has a lengthy criminal history. He is already serving two life sentences at the Telford Unit in New Boston, in northeast Texas.

A Victoria County jury levied one of the life sentences in 2005 after they found him guilty of murdering a 6-year-old boy. While prosecutors admitted Mendoza was not at the home where the boy was shot in 2003, they said he ordered the shooting.

Former District Attorney Dexter Eaves said after the verdict was read that Mendoza would never breathe fresh air again, according to Advocate archives.

Victoria County District Attorney Stephen Tyler said he requested the additional security because he felt Mendoza has nothing left to lose. The tactical decisions were left up to Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, he said.

"I didn't see anybody suspicious (during the court appearance), but sometimes, a good show of force keeps that from happening," Tyler said.

O'Connor declined to release how many deputies were used Friday because that would compromise future security downtown. He said as the day wore on, though, he made the deputies less visible to the public so as not to create a concern.

Making the deputies less visible does not mean there were fewer deputies there, he said.

The extra security will be present when Mendoza's trial begins.

"We will have extra personnel on hand for maybe as long as four weeks, which makes it tough on us personnel wise, but we'll get it done," O'Connor said. "I don't like to disrupt the comings and goings of the courthouse as well as the surrounding businesses."

His office has provided extra security for high-profile cases before, he said.

Attorney Stephen Wood Byrne, of Corpus Christi, represents Mendoza in this case.

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