Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a man accused of gunning down a Cathedral City resident who was trying to sell his car to the defendant.

Gabriel Gaytan Cardenas, 33, is charged with murder and several special circumstance allegations, including murder for financial gain, lying in wait, and murder in the commission of a robbery, carjacking and a felony in the Nov. 11, 2014 killing of 46-year-old Victor Mendoza. Mendoza’s body was found in a desert area of Coachella one week after he allegedly met with Cardenas.

Prosecutors filed their notice of intent to seek the death penalty on Wednesday.

Mendoza posted an ad on Craigslist for his Mercedes-Benz, and after an initial meeting with Cardenas about the car, called friends “and expressed concerns over selling the vehicle to Cardenas,” according to a declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant.

On Nov. 11, Mendoza asked a friend to be at a Del Taco restaurant on Varner Road and Washington Street in Palm Desert while he finalized a deal with Cardenas, and she watched as the defendant got into the Mercedes with the victim and drove off, according to the declaration.

Mendoza’s friend talked to him on the phone shortly after the two men left and said he was acting strangely. Cardenas later called her on Mendoza’s phone, saying Mendoza had inadvertently left it behind after selling him the car, according to the declaration prepared by sheriff’s Investigator Sean Freeman.

Mendoza was reported missing the following day.

On Nov. 15, Cardenas was driving Mendoza’s car when he met with a man and his son in response to their Craigslist car ad, according to the declaration. Cardenas met the pair again two days later, again under the guise of buying their car. He allegedly brandished a gun and threatened to kill them, while also admitting to Mendoza’s murder.

However, he let them go since one of the men “reminded him of his father” and “they had been nice to (him) during the first meeting” and took their car, the declaration states.

Cardenas was arrested later that day in Indio while driving the father and son’s car, and investigators found his cell phone number in both victims’ phone records, according to Freeman.

Cardenas allegedly told the investigators that he was in debt to a Mexican drug cartel and was ordered by the cartel to meet Mendoza. He alleged that he delivered Mendoza to a cartel member, who drove them to Coachella, and the cartel member shot Mendoza. Cardenas later led investigators to where the body was found, according to the declaration.

In a second interview, Cardenas told investigators that he met with Mendoza at the Del Taco in Palm Desert and had him drive to Coachella, the declaration says.

“Cardenas told Mendoza to get on his knees and to say a prayer for Cardenas. Cardenas then shot Mendoza in the back of the head and left the body,” the document states. “Cardenas still claimed that he committed the murder on behalf of a drug cartel that he owed money.”

Cardenas remains held without bail at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning. He’s next due in court Monday for a trial-readiness conference.

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