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Client Didn’t Kill His Wife, He Just Fulfilled Her Dying Wish By Cleaning Up The Crime Scene, Lawyer Insists

David Pena's attorney contends his client didn't kill his wife, but instead found her dying, took the knife out her back, and told her he'd clean up the crime scene so her son wouldn't see it.

By Jill Sederstrom

A California man admits to cleaning up the crime scene where his estranged wife had been stabbed to death, but his lawyer said he had a good reason: He was actually fulfilling her dying wish.

David Pena, 51, is on trial for killing Martha Mendiola, 50, but in the opening statements Wednesday, his attorney, David Mugridge, claimed his client didn't kill her. Instead, Mugridge said Pena simply found her in the garage of her Fresno home with a large knife in her back, which he removed before cleaning up the scene after she asked him to during her final moments.

"He laid down there, knelt down there next to her, took her in his arms, told him her last words, and said 'I love you, don't let Matthew see me like this.' And he promised that he wouldn't," Mugridge told jurors, according to California news station KFSN.

He claimed Pena cleaned up the crime scene with bleach and wrapped Mendiola in a tarp and put her in her car so that her son wouldn't see the body.

Prosecutor Nathan Lambert told the jury a different version of events on Wednesday, telling jurors Pena had been angry with his wife and snuck into her home on the morning of Nov. 29, 2016. Lambert said Pena stabbed his wife, who had asked him to move out about 10 days before the attack, in the back with a large knife, according to The Fresno Bee.

"Martha Mendiola was murdered on Nov. 29, 2016, she was murdered in her garage, she was beaten, hit in the face, she was bloody, her wedding ring ripped off her finger, she was stabbed in the back with a large knife, a knife that was so large it was able to pierce her lungs," Lambert told the jury, according to KFSN.

Mendiola and Pena had been married about five years when she was killed.

According to Lambert, Pena made the bed and took his wife's purse and cell phone so that nothing looked out of place and her son, Matthew Cardenas, would believe she had gone to work as usual.

One of Mendiola's coworkers became concerned about her after she failed to show up for work. The woman, Treanna Timberlake, testified Wednesday that she texted Mendiola but got a strange text message in response. She reached out to Mendiola's son, who had been asleep at the time of the murder. He also tried to contact Mendiola but just received an odd text from "Mendiola."

Lambert alleged the messages were really coming from Pena.

"He was pretending to be Martha, saying things like 'I just needed to get away,' 'my phone fell in the toilet and is not receiving phone calls,'" he said, according to KFSN.

After law enforcement arrived at Mendiola's house they found blood stains and evidence that a crime scene had been cleaned up.

A California Highway Patrol officer would later find Mendiola's body tied up in a tarp in the backseat of her car, the news station reports.

Surveillance video later showed Pena buying a tarp from Walmart, the Fresno Bee reports.

If convicted, Pena could face 16 years to life in prison for the crime.

[Photo: Fresno Police]