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The motive for a botched home invasion earlier this week in West Valley City that left one man dead appears to have been to steal drugs and cash from a confessed drug dealer.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has charged one of the occupants of the home, Javier Mendoza-Trujillo, with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. If convicted, according to federal prosecutors' spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch, the 31-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant could face a minimum of five and a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Mendoza-Trujillo made his first court appearance Friday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells. Arrested Thursday, the defendant remained in the Salt Lake County Jail on federal felony hold orders and prosecutors expect to present the case to a federal grand jury sometime next week, Rydalch said.
The charge stems from a foiled Wednesday morning break-in by three armed and masked men at 7133 W. Chula Drive (3705 South). According to police, the incident began when Mendoza-Trujillo's brother went to warm up his car and was confronted by the armed men. The brother and the three men then began fighting.
During the fight, one of the armed men, 29-year-old Robert Ebere, ran into the house and up a staircase, where he pointed a semiautomatic pistol at a woman.
Mendoza-Trujillo and his brother who had broken free of the fight outside then fought Ebere. Mendoza-Trujillo put Ebere in a choke hold and held him there until he passed out, according to police.
When authorities arrived they found the brothers standing over Ebere, who they took to a hospital in critical condition. He died Friday about 12:21 p.m.
Police say Ebere and the other two men stormed the home for a "drug rip." Investigators discovered that in addition to a gun, Ebere brought industrial zip ties to the scene. Police believe he and the other men planned to bind the residents of the home and rob them.
The other two assailants who accompanied Ebere remained at large Friday.
A 911 call from an 8-year-old boy in the residence had brought police to the address, police say.
According to the federal complaint filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court, detectives obtained a search warrant for the home on Wednesday. A hidden compartment was found in the floor, prosecutors said. West Valley City police also report that investigators found nine pounds of cocaine in the home and a bundle of cash.
After allegedly waiving his right to remain silent, Mendoza-Trujillo admitted that "he is in the business of selling cocaine and had been selling approximately 2 kilos per month since December 2012," federal Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force Officer Darrell Dain stated.
Prosecutors said that Mendoza-Trujillo also told investigators that he had stashed more cocaine inside another hidden compartment in his van, parked outside. "Officers located approximately one half-pound of cocaine and another bundle of currency" inside the vehicle, the federal complaint alleged.
Mendoza-Trujillo, who has several aliases, does not seem to have an extensive criminal history in Utah, though 3rd District Court records show guilty pleas to class A misdemeanor assault charges in December 2012 in connection with a domestic violence complaint, for which he was given a year in jail, which was suspended on condition of 18 months' supervised probation.
Anyone with information about the incident is urged to call police at 801-840-4000.