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Witness in Edic trial says attack should have been directed at him

Opening arguments started yesterday in the murder trial of William Edic, a 34-year-old inmate and alleged gang member who is accused of assaulting a fellow prisoner in 2010. The trial started in Merrimack Superior Court in Concord.

(GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff)

Opening arguments started yesterday in the murder trial of William Edic, a 34-year-old inmate and alleged gang member who is accused of assaulting a fellow prisoner in 2010. The trial started in Merrimack Superior Court in Concord. (GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff)

A former inmate at the Concord state prison who has said he witnessed the brutal 2010 assault there on Anthony Renzzulla told jurors yesterday during the murder trial of one of two alleged attackers that their ambush should have instead been directed at him.

Following hours of cross-examination, Michael Mendoza, one of Renzzulla’s podmates at the time of the July 26 attack, said the assailants and their gang, the Brotherhood of White Warriors, wrongly believed that Renzzulla had snitched on two of their members – and were punishing him for it.

But Renzzulla, Mendoza said tearfully, had done no such thing.

“I was the informant,” he sobbed, pulling his hand over his eyes. “I was the informant. He wasn’t an informant.”

A day earlier, Mendoza testified that he was in the pod during the attack and watched as William Edic and another inmate, Thomas Milton, repeatedly kicked and stomped on Renzzulla’s head, rendering him comatose. Renzzulla, 42 and long hobbled by a bad back, died of his injuries nearly a year and a half later.

But as the end of his testimony in Edic’s second-degree murder trial neared yesterday, Mendoza, a square-jawed, barrel-chested felon who had remained emotionless throughout hours of questions from attorneys on both sides, suddenly broke down.

Responding to a question from state prosecutor Peter Hinckley, Mendoza acknowledged that he had come forward about what he saw in part because of guilt. Earlier in the day, he admitted to notifying prison officials about contraband that the two gang members had been storing in their cells. BOWW officials later incorrectly traced it back to Renzzulla, he said.

“You believe that Anthony took the hit that you deserved, right?” Hinckley asked.

“Yes,” Mendoza said.

“The Brotherhood got the wrong person,” Hinckley continued.

Mendoza’s eyes began to swell with tears. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking out at Renzzulla’s mother, Theresa Gilman, who was seated in the gallery. Gilman turned her head away and later dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

But public defender Donna Brown was clearly skeptical. For hours, she peppered Mendoza with questions about his motivation: Had he really agreed to testify because of some altruistic, guilt-laden conscious, or had he simply fabricated a story to gain whatever foothold he could with corrections officials?

On Wednesday, co-counsel Jeremy Clemans told jurors in Merrimack County Superior Court that Mendoza and other inmates who might yet testify are lying about their knowledge of the incident.

“You had no friendship with Mr. Edic,” Brown said yesterday, recalling an earlier statement in which Mendoza claimed Edic had spoken with him after the attack. “And it’s your testimony that of all the people he can pick to bare his soul to about how terrible he feels about this he picked you?”

“He didn’t choose,” Mendoza replied. “I went to his cell and confronted him.”

Brown also questioned whether Mendoza had received any deal for agreeing to talk, noting that in 2012, roughly a week after Mendoza spoke with state officials on record about the attack, he pleaded guilty to three pending felony charges in exchange for a 2½- to 7-year sentence – 10 years less than the maximum for which he was eligible.

She also pointed out that Mendoza had “ratted out” other inmates in the past, and hypothesized that doing so while keeping up appearances in prison requires one to be a skilled and tactical liar.

And she suggested that Mendoza had lied once about how endangered he felt from coming forward – to which Mendoza admitted he had.

“So it’s not a matter of just saying whatever you need to say to get whatever you wanted, to get taken home?” Brown said

“No,” Mendoza replied.

“No,” she went on. “You wouldn’t do that.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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