Case of fatal shooting of football player postponed shortly before trial date

Francisco Mendez (Source: Shawnee Co. Jail)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- On Thursday, just five days before Francisco "Frankie" Alejandro Mendez, 18, was to begin his jury trial on charges he fatally shot one Washburn University football player and wounded a second WU player, he sought a competency hearing that will cause the trial's postponement.

Mendez was scheduled to appear at a motion hearing on Thursday preparatory to the beginning of his jury trial on February 18 in Shawnee County District Court.

Instead, Mendez and his attorney met privately with the judge. On Tuesday, defense attorney KiAnn Caprice filed a motion seeking to postpone the Mendez jury trial.

The motion seeks "a continuance in order to proceed with a competency evaluation" and asks for the evaluation itself.

No specifics were listed in the motion as the reason for the evaluation.

It's unknown how long the postponement will delay the trial. The case will return to court on February 27 to determine the status of the evaluation.

An evaluation can be completed in several days and sometimes it requires months.

During Mendez' last hearing on January 31, he asked his attorney whether the trial could be postponed, Caprice told the judge in the last few moments of the hearing. Caprice told the judge she would talk to her client about his requested postponement.

Of the 12 charges Mendez faces, five are tied to events on April 28. They are:

  • Premeditated first-degree murder of WU football player, Dwane Simmons, on April 28, 2019, at S.W. 13th and Lane.
  • Attempted first-degree murder of WU football player Corey Ballentine, who was wounded.
  • Three counts of attempted first-degree murder of Channon Ross, Kevin Neal and James Letcher, who were with Simmons and Ballentine.
    The five victims in the April 28 events were Washburn University football players.

Mendez also is charged with two counts of two aggravated robberies on April 27 in what is referred to as the "Central Park robbery."

Mendez is also charged with five aggravated robberies on April 30.

During the January 31 hearing, District Court Judge Cheryl Rios denied a Mendez motion to move his trial outside Shawnee County. Mendez' defense attorney wanted the trial moved, alleging Mendez couldn't get a fair trial in Shawnee County based on the news media exposure the case had received.

News media coverage hadn't interfered with the case, Rios ruled. While there has been news coverage of the offenses, the court would be able to secure a jury that would be fair, Rios said.

Mendez has denied he was involved in the shooting death of Simmons.

Simmons and several other players were celebrating the drafting of Ballentine by the New York Giants football team. Ballentine was wounded in the April 28 shooting and S.W. 13th and Lane, but he has rejoined the Giants.

According to testimony during Mendez's preliminary hearing, Ballentine, Simmons and three other members of the WU football team were standing at S.W. 13th and Lane celebrating Ballentine's good fortune to be drafted into professional football on the Giants team.

Then a car pulled alongside the five men. Occupants asked the football players whether they smoked marijuana and their names, pulled away, then abruptly stopped.

Gunfire exploded, first sounding like shots from one gun, but the rate of fire accelerated to sound like two firearms.

Witnesses testified they heard 20 or more gunshots.