EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 27, 2013

No bail for local teen in machete attack

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The lawyer for a Haverhill High School senior charged with stabbing two people with a machete said his client is three months away from graduating high school and asked that he be released so he can continue with his classes.

Attorney Jawara Griffin, who represented Joan Manuel Mendez-Sanchez at a hearing yesterday in Haverhill District Court, said his client’s last report card from Haverhill High was all A’s and B’s, with the exception of a computer science class, which he said Mendez-Sanchez failed.

Griffin handed Judge Patricia Dowling a copy of Mendez-Sanchez’ report card and asked that he be released on $2,000 cash bail and on a number of conditions, including pretrial probation, electronic monitoring, as well as a curfew.

“There are conditions that would keep the community safe,” Griffin said.

He added that one of Mendez-Sanchez’ high school teachers provided him with a letter attesting to his character and that he has been a good student in class. He also said Mendez-Sanchez’ mother and a group of his friends were in the courtroom to show support.

“He has absolutely no juvenile or adult criminal record,” Griffin said.

Dowling disagreed saying the facts of the case are “troubling” and that there are no conditions that will secure the safety of the public. Dowling ordered Mendez-Sanchez held without bail. He must appear March 27 for a probable cause hearing.

Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo said the office of District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett is reviewing the case for possible indictment.

During yesterday’s hearing, Griffin said three witnesses who were questioned by police on the night of the fight changed their stories when questioned during a follow-up investigation.

“Clearly there were some inconsistencies with their stories,” Griffin said, adding that police continue to investigate the stabbings.

Following yesterday’s hearing, Griffin told The Eagle-Tribune that he intends to request a bail hearing in Salem Superior Court.

Last week, Haverhill School Superintendent James Scully said that until the matter is resolved, Mendez-Sanchez will not be allowed back into Haverhill High.

Police allege that Mendez-Sanchez stabbed two men with a machete after a dance party on the night of Feb. 15 erupted into a fight between two gangs. Witnesses told police some people received electric shocks from Tasers during the fight, while several were attacked by a man wielding a machete. Three other suspects are being sought in connection with the stabbings, which police said took place outside 528 Hadley West Drive.

Police charged Mendez-Sanchez, 19, of 52 Cedar St. with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon. Police said Mendez-Sanchez surrendered after he learned police had a warrant for his arrest.

According to police, witnesses said Mendez-Sanchez is a member of the Trinitarios gang — a well known Dominican gang that uses machetes as their primary weapon, police said.

At his arraignment Feb. 19 in Haverhill District Court, Mendez-Sanchez was ordered held without bail pending yesterday’s hearing.

According to a police report on file in Haverhill District Court, witnesses gave conflicting estimates of the number of people who attended a dance party at 528 Hadley West Drive, part of a large apartment complex, that began about 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15. Estimates ranged from 30 to 100 people and witnesses said the event was advertised on Facebook as a “Small Jam.”

A 25-year-old woman who rents the apartment told police her brother and his friend hosted the party and that after she arrived home at about 11 p.m., she asked people to leave when a fight broke out.

A 17-year-old told police the fight started when her boyfriend caught her dancing with Mendez-Sanchez and became jealous. Witnesses told police the fight continued outdoors and more people arrived. The fight involved members of two gangs, police said.

While interviewing witnesses at the scene of the fight, police were notified that two males, 19 and 21 years old, both from Lawrence, had arrived at Merrimack Valley Hospital with multiple stab wounds. One of the victims told police that Mendez-Sanchez was a member of the Trinitarios and that his gang had “just walked up to his group and attacked them outside of 528 Hadley West Drive,” according to a police report.

Around the same time, police dispatch received two reports of a man bleeding in the street in the 700 Washington St. area. Police said the victim, a 16-year-old Haverhill boy, had a laceration on his back and was taken by ambulance to Lawrence General Hospital, where he was treated and released. The boy told police he was at another apartment in the Hadley West complex when he saw some of his friends fighting. He said he went to help them when a man he could not describe sliced his back with a machete.

Following an investigation into the stabbings, police obtained a warrant for the arrest of Mendez-Sanchez. Police said he subsequently turned himself in at the police station. Mendez-Sanchez told police he arrived at the party alone and saw two people fighting over a girl.

He said he was pushed outside and that a hooded man threw a machete, which he picked up and then was rushed by people with Tasers. He said he then fell to the ground and threw the machete.

Police asked Mendez-Sanchez about his Facebook page and references to his being a Trinitarios gang member.

He said he was a member of that gang in the Dominican Republic, but not here. Mendez-Sanchez denied hitting anyone with a machete, police said.