Father pleads no contest to 2016 church drowning of daughter

California

HEALDSBURG, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California man has pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter charges in the 2016 drowning of his 4-year-old daughter in the baptismal pool of a Catholic church, authorities said.

Gerardo Mendoza, 47, had been smoking methamphetamine for three days and began believing his two youngest children were “being attacked by evil” when he took them to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in the small California wine country city of Healdsburg on Nov. 20, 2016, authorities have said.

Mendoza, who entered his plea Wednesday, wanted to find a priest. But after he couldn’t find one, he led his daughter Maria and 9-year-old son into a cross-shaped baptismal pool at least a foot (30 centimeters) deep, court documents show, the Press Democrat reported.

He then carried the girl’s body to a nearby police station and stood naked in the station’s back parking lot yelling “help” and “police” in Spanish as he held his fully clothed and soaked daughter, authorities said. His 9-year-old son stood next to him wearing only shorts.

The child was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Facing a potential 25-years-to-life sentence if convicted of drowning his daughter, Mendoza pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter. A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such at sentencing.

Mendoza, a day laborer and farmworker, had moved with his family from Sacramento to Healdsburg for work about six months before the killing.

The plea deal means that Mendoza faces a term of 11 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Oct. 15.

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