A man charged in June in the shooting death of another man was found guilty of 2nd degree murder by a Faulkner County jury on Thursday.

The jury returned a 17-year sentence for Ramon Mendez Rodriguez, 27, for the June 12 shooting death of Julio Cota near the YMBA Fairgrounds. The jury rejected Rodriguez’s self-defense claim.

The shooting occurred after the two men fought in front of many witnesses. 

Eyewitnesses for the prosecution said Rodriguez left after the fight and returned with a 9 millimeter pistol and shot Cota six times. Witnesses said Cota fell to the ground and was shot multiple times on the ground.

Dr. Stephen Erickson of the Arkansas Crime Lab testified that evidence suggested that some of the shots in Cota’s body were sustained while he was on the ground. 

Witnesses testified that Rodriguez returned and shot Cota, who was unarmed. Rodriguez maintained that he only shot Cota in self defense after Cota lunged at him. Rodriguez claimed that he returned to the scene to collect his cellular phone.

Arkansas State Police officers arrested Rodriguez in Maumelle after he fled with two other people.

Investigators searching Rodriguez’s house after the incident recovered a large quantity of cocaine. Investigators valued the recovered drugs at $7,000 to $10,000.

The jury returned its verdict after three hours of deliberation. It took the jury about two hours to recommend the 17-year sentence, which Circuit Judge David Reynolds ordered Rodriguez to begin immediately.

After the guilt phase, the jury heard evidence regarding sentencing, the jury heard testimony from family members of the victim concerning his good character and the fact that now his children were fatherless. The defense called two witnesses asserting that the defendant was of good character. In arguing to the jury regarding the sentence, defense counsel maintained that the jury should be merciful and continued to maintain that the defendant acted only in self defense.    

"The defendant has said that after he is deported he will not return and you can rest assured that if he said it he won’t," said defense attorney Reggie Koch. 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden maintained to the jury that the defendant had acted as judge, jury and executioner denying the victim of any rights that the defendant had been afforded during the last three days. Vaden argued to the jury that the defendant was a danger to the community and that they could not depend on the defendant’s word that he wouldn’t come back after deportation.

"I urge you to give him as long a sentence as you think you can because I assure you, within 30 days of his release and deportation we will be seeing him back on Bean Street."  

"I appreciate the hard work of the jury, the Conway Police Department, the Prosecutor’s Office and the courageous eyewitnesses that came forward to testify under very difficult circumstances," Vaden said.