A downtown Los Angeles jury found 22-year-old Carla Mendez guilty of second-degree murder yesterday. Mendez was accused of killing a local snow-cone vendor who allegedly put an evil spell on her female lover Maria Gomez. Gomez was found guilty of first-degree murder in August of 2007.
Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Detectives found 43-year-old Norberto Castro’s battered body next to a Jetta on Allesandro Street in Silver Lake on July 13, 2005. Castro, a happy go lucky snow-cone vendor who pushed a cart around his Melrose Avenue neighborhood, was rushed to the hospital but died of his injuries soon afterwards.
According to the prosecution’s key witness, Sogui Godinez, Gomez concocted a sinister plan to kill the Mexican immigrant after consulting a bruja — a Mexican witch doctor operating out of a botanica within the city's sprawling immigrant community. Gomez decided Castro had cast a spell on her as punishment for spurning his advances. Swept up in her eerie beliefs, Gomez decided her only escape was to murder Castro.
Gomez ultimately tricked Castro into drinking paint thinner and nail-polish remover, then joined Mendez in bashing his head in with rocks.
The entire tragedy, according to court papers, was driven by Gomez' belief in love spells and witchcraft, practiced underground in many poor Latino neighborhoods.
On that summer night, Castro joined Gomez, Mendez and a friend in a late-night trip to Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, where, according to Godinez, Castro accepted a beer from Gomez and guzzled it — not realizing Gomez had spiked it with nail-polish remover and paint thinner.
Castro was barely conscious when they shoved him into the car and drove back into Los Angeles. As they drove, Gomez began striking Castro with a beer bottle and shouting, “You disgust me…You are ugly.”
Cops said that Mendez admitted to striking Castro over the head with a beer bottle after he lunged towards Gomez’ throat. The beating began after Castro insulted the women, and performed witchcraft on Gomez, according to Mendez.
“[Castro] was stupid for not defending himself,” Mendez said to the cops during an interview.
They eventually parked Gomez’ Jetta on Allesandro Way. According to Godinez, Gomez and Mendez tried to back the car over Castro — but the car wouldn't start. Instead, they bashed in his skull with two rocks that weighed over 16 pounds, and fled.
Mendez told cops that she didn’t know why Castro died. LAPD detective Luis Rivera suggested that it was because of the beating he endured at her hands. “She was laughing and said, ‘I don’t want to talk about those stories.’”
Rivera, who earlier this week, said Mendez later laughed, and said: “I should have used gloves…next time.”
Last week, Mendez’ attorney Norman Kallen said Mendez and Gomez came from “humble beginnings” and arrived in Los Angeles without “the help of legal entry.”
Gomez and Mendez had a history of “expecting a curse on them,” he said.
“My client is an individual who subscribes to the possibility [that] if a hex is placed on them those individuals are subject to be victimized,” he said, and because of Mendez’ love for Gomez, “she felt Gomez was being threatened by this guy.”
With fingerprint evidence placing Gomez inside the bloodied Jetta, she was arrested during a six-hour stakeout on a South L.A. street in September of 2005. Mendez eluded the law for five more months, and was picked up by the LAPD's fugitive task force on February 23, 2006, visiting a friend in South L.A.