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Mexican man in country illegally pleads guilty to killing California police officer

A photo of slain Newman police Cpl. Ronil "Ron" Singh rests atop his casket during his funeral on Jan. 5, 2019.
A photo of slain Newman, Calif., police Cpl. Ronil “Ron” Singh rests atop his casket during his funeral in Modesto on Jan. 5, 2019. On Thursday, Paulo Virgen Mendoza, a Mexican migrant in the country illegally, pleaded guilty to murder under a deal with prosecutors that will spare him the death penalty.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

A Mexican man in the country illegally pleaded guilty to murder Thursday in the killing of a California police officer in a case that President Trump used to bolster his call for tougher border security.

During an emotional hearing, Paulo Virgen Mendoza admitted fatally shooting Cpl. Ronil Singh of the tiny Newman Police Department during a traffic stop early Dec. 26, 2018.

Mondoza’s guilty plea, under a deal with Stanislaus County prosecutors that will spare him the death penalty, included an admission of multiple special circumstances and the use of a gun. The district attorney’s office had said in May that it would seek his execution if he was convicted.

Investigators said Mendoza shot Singh after the Fiji-born police corporal stopped him early the day after Christmas on suspicion of driving under the influence.

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“He loved his American dream of becoming a police officer,” said his widow, Anamika Singh-Chand, breaking down in sobs on the witness stand. “He wanted his son to also be a police officer.”

She recalled how the family celebrated Christmas together before he kissed his 5-month-old son on the forehead, then “he told me, ‘I love you and I’ll see you in the morning.’”

Then came the 2 a.m. knock on the door from a fellow officer with the news that he had been shot.

The procession of police cars worked its way through the Central Valley, escorting the body of Ronil Singh for his final watch in this small town.

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In court, she told Virgen Mendoza that he “tore away my dreams ... tore my love away from me and left me silently screaming.”

Virgen Mendoza deserved the death penalty, she told Judge Ricardo Córdova, but she accepted his life-without-parole sentence “since this is California and we would most likely not get it.”

California has not executed anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium on executions as long as he is governor.

Virgen Mendoza, during a lengthy discussion with the judge about whether he understood the consequences of his life sentence, said, “God has forgiven me, and I ask forgiveness with my entire heart from the family. It was not my intention.”

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Córdova eventually decided Virgen Mendoza understood his rights and accepted the plea.

“I hope that every morning when you wake up you think about what happened and ... why you are in prison” the judge told Virgen Mendoza. “That is a pain you will have, your family will have. But the pain is a lot greater for the Singh family.”

Virgen Mendoza’s brother and another man were later convicted of aiding him when he tried to escape to Mexico. Three others, including his girlfriend, pleaded guilty and two more were acquitted. All were in the country illegally and also faced deportation proceedings.

The case reignited debate over California’s sanctuary law that limits cooperation by local authorities with federal immigration agents. Trump used the slaying to bolster his argument for tighter immigration security amid a fight with congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall.

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