Murder victim Maria Guadalupe Mendoza takes a selfie. Photo from GoFundMe.
Murder victim Maria Guadalupe Mendoza, who was targeted and shot while riding in a car on Interstate 10. One man has been convicted of her murder and another awaits trial. Photo from GoFundMe.

A 20-year-old driver involved in a deadly car-to-car jealousy shooting of a woman on Interstate 10 pleaded guilty to murder Friday and was immediately sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.

Andrew Castro was the desert freeway driver near Palm Springs in the May 8, 2016 shooting death of co- defendant Damian De Los Santos’ ex-girlfriend, 19-year-old Maria Guadalupe Mendoza.

De Los Santos, the alleged gunman, remains in custody awaiting trial and faces a potential life without parole sentence if convicted on all counts.

The victim was allegedly shot by De Los Santos, 24, after he saw her with her new boyfriend in the parking lot of a Cathedral City convenience store the afternoon of May 8.

According to sheriff’s investigator Steven Paixao, Mendoza was waiting to be picked up by her new boyfriend at the Arco gas station and AM/PM convenience store at 27900 Date Palm Drive.

When the man arrived, De Los Santos allegedly approached and lifted his shirt, showing the boyfriend a revolver tucked in his waistband and threatening to kill him. The boyfriend sped away in his car with Mendoza, but De Los Santos and Castro allegedly followed them onto eastbound Interstate 10.

With Castro driving, De Los Santos allegedly fired multiple shots at the boyfriend’s car, including one that passed through Mendoza’s body and struck her boyfriend’s leg.

Before she died at a hospital, Mendoza told CHP officers that someone named Damian shot her, Paixao wrote. De Los Santos also sent a Facebook message to the boyfriend afterward, saying he would shoot him, too, according to the declaration.

Castro was arrested May 9 after sheriff’s investigators obtained his license plate number by reviewing surveillance footage from the convenience store.

Two .44-caliber Remington Magnum shell casings were found inside Castro’s car, consistent with the type of gun described to deputies by Mendoza’s boyfriend, Paixao wrote. A baseball cap that De Los Santos was seen wearing on his Facebook page also was found in the car.

De Los Santos was arrested May 12 in Mexicali by members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Coachella Valley Violent Crime Gang Task Force and District Attorney’s Organized Crime Bureau.

Castro was also charged with the attempted murder of Mendoza’s boyfriend, a felony count of shooting at an inhabited vehicle, and a special circumstance allegation of discharging a firearm from a vehicle. Those charges, which would have resulted in a life without parole sentence had Castro been convicted on all counts, were dismissed at sentencing Friday.

Castro has no other felony convictions in Riverside County. However, De Los Santos has multiple convictions, including receiving a stolen vehicle and burglary, according to court records.

De Los Santos is next due in court Nov. 3 for a trial-readiness conference.

–City News Service

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