Man gets 25 years in murder

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Mora County victim was stabbed 40 times, burned

By Mercy Lopez

The Rainsville man accused of fatally stabbing and setting a man on fire in 2009 has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, District Attorney Richard Flores announced Thursday.

Michael Strand Jr., 23, had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, armed robbery, arson, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and conspiracy in November. The victim in the case was 59-year-old Roberto Mendez, whose burned body was discovered in Buena Vista Ranch on June 8, 2009.

The release states that Mendez was at his home at a private ranch in Mora County where he had worked for about 25 years.

Strand showed up at Mendez’s home and told him he was looking for lost cows in the area, the release states. Mendez helped him.

“They both returned to Mr. Mendez’s residence, and that is when Strand began to strike and beat him,” the release states. Authorities say Strand stabbed Mendez 40 times, 28 in the back, 10 in the stomach area and twice in the arms.

Strand then robbed Mendez, taking personal items and his 1997 Ford Expedition.

He also tried to burn Mendez’s body and home in an attempt to destroy any evidence, the release states.

A Mora County sheriff’s deputy subsequently spotted Strand driving the victim’s vehicle. State police and the district attorney’s office obtained a search warrant to search Strand’s home, and they found additional evidence linking Strand to the case.

“I am extremely disheartened when I see the brutality that is committed upon a fellow human being,” Flores said. “Mr. Mendez was simply minding his business, in his own home, when he chose to help Strand. In return, (Strand) took his life.

“I am encouraged, though, that our judicial system may provide some justice for Mr. Mendez and his family,” Flores added. “We cannot turn the clock back, but we can and must continue to do our best to help those who have been victimized.”

Flores noted that law enforcement, particularly state police agent Steve Montaño who was the primary case agent, built a solid case.

According to online court records, the sentence was imposed in February. Flores said he announced the sentence now because he feels that at this time it is unlikely that the plea agreement and sentencing would be challenged.

The online court record states that prosecutors dropped charges of tampering with evidence, unlawful taking of a vehicle and aggravated burglary.

Strand’s wife, Lila Fresquez, was also charged in connection with the case.

Authorities have previously said that Strand called Fresquez from the victim’s house, and Fresquez met him there.

When she arrived at the victim’s house, she found Strand inside a white pickup truck. Strand entered her car with a couple of guns, ammunition, a cooler, some beer and rifle cases, a court document states.

Fresquez told police she noticed blood on Strand. They went to Mendez’s house later and drove off with his Expedition, officials said.

Online court records state that Fresquez pleaded guilty on Nov. 3, 2010, to conspiracy to commit unlawful taking of a vehicle, tampering with evidence and taking a motor vehicle without consent of owner. She will be on supervised probation until Nov. 2, 2013.

Prosecutors dropped charges of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, abuse of a child and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.