NEWMAN, Calif. — The man accused of killing Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh pleaded guilty in court on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, nearly two years after shooting the officer.
Paulo Virgen Mendoza (aka Gustavo Arriaga) admitted in court to intentionally shooting and killing Singh during a traffic stop on Dec. 28, 2018. He also admitted to three special circumstances, including committing murder in an attempt to evade arrest, killing a police officer in the performance of his duties, and discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle with the intent to inflict death.
Mendoza took a plea deal that would make sure he does not get the death penalty. Instead, he will never be released from prison and will not get the possibility of parole, according to the deal. As part of the plea agreement, Mendoza agreed to waive his right to appeal.
"I'm never going to see him come home. He's never going to hold his child. I'm always going to have that empty chair at my dinner table," Anamika Singh-Chand, Singh's widow said.
Singh-Chand spoke directly to the man who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing her husband, reliving the moment officers rang her doorbell in the middle of the night.
"Because Ron had prepared me all my life for that day, if ever police came to the door, just know I'm critically injured or I'm no more," Singh-Chand said.
But through the tears, she wasn't alone in the courtroom. His widow was surrounded by every Newman police officer — from the department's small team of 12 — who was working on the force at the time Singh was killed. Three officers also had the opportunity to speak directly to Singh's killer on Thursday.
"Because we are a small department, we are like a family at the Newman Police Department, so he just wanted to let the suspect know that his actions actually tore up the whole community, it was difficult for the entire community of Newman," Newman Police Department Chief Randy Richardson said.
Richardson, along with the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office, originally pushed for the death penalty, up until Thursday's plea deal.
"It is difficult. It's bittersweet, but I don't know that that was necessarily the justice that we were seeking to begin with, but I think it's ultimately the best we're going to get in such a brief period of time," Richardson said.
Lt. Neil Cervenka, Singh's friend and former co-worker when he was a cadet at the Turlock Police Department, said this is the closure the community has needed.
"It allows us to move forward, we're never going to move on, that wound is never going to heal, but this helps us move forward," Cervenka said.
Cervenka added, the sooner they stop hearing his killer's name in the news, the better, as the community's focus will now shift solely to honoring the man who lived the American dream and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
"Ron's name will never be forgotten, nor will the man and that's the important part," Cervenka said.
Friends and family of Singh were also in the courtroom to share memories of the fallen officer and what life has been like since losing him.
"He loved his American dream of becoming a police officer. He was passionate and proud of his job,” Singh-Chand said. "Our lives were perfect until the late hours of Dec. 26, 2018, when a police corporal, a husband, a father, a son was brutally murdered for fulfilling responsibilities of protecting and serving his community.”
Singh's brother showed a slideshow of memories of Singh, including a picture of him teaching his son to walk just days before he was killed. His former colleague Cpl. Edgar Lopez spoke on behalf of the Newman Police Department.
"Witnessing the emotions of Ronil's family was what made many of us reconsider the career we had chosen," Lopez said. "Christmastime will never be the same for our department and the Singh family."
Singh's former beat partner said that he was her mentor and good friend.
"I lost my best friend that day. Dec. 26, 2018, was the worst day of my life," Sarah Breier said. "Ron's family, his blue family, and everyone else in the community has suffered a great loss."
Eight others were also charged with helping Mendoza run away before he was caught. At least five of those people have been convicted in federal court.
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The lieutenant ran 28.2 miles to honor Cpl. Ronil Singh, who was killed a year ago in the line of duty.