Murder victim's family promotes awareness


POSTED: Monday, November 02, 2009

Hawaii-born Chennel Melendez lived for 10 years in Las Vegas with an abusive and controlling husband who threatened to take their son if she ever left him, her family members say.

But things were looking up.

“;She lost 45 pounds and had gotten a better job,”; said sister Claudine Eggleston, another Las Vegas resident. “;We were talking more, and she knew she had a place to go. She was getting braver and more confident.”;

Her husband didn't like it, she said.

On the night of Aug. 7, 2008, Mauricio Israel Melendez, 34, shot his wife in the head, leaving a quarter-size hole, while their 7-year-old son, Ciran, was lying down in the next room.

In a Nevada courtroom Sept. 17, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. He was also found guilty of use of a deadly weapon.

A court spokesman said he will spend a minimum of 27 years in prison, accounting for the year he has already been in custody.


Melendez's attorney, Scott Coffee, said the shooting was an accident, that his client was intoxicated while he was showing his wife how to operate the gun when it went off. He said his client had no history of domestic violence and no previous criminal record.

But the victim's family members hope that what happened to Chennel, 33, will help others recognize the warning signs and get out of an abusive relationship before it is too late.

“;Sometimes people don't listen because it happens so much,”; Eggleston, who lives in Las Vegas and worked with the district attorney's office. “;If they have a daughter or sister or friend in an abusive relationship, look for clues, stay in contact and be supportive. Let her know she has a place to go.”;

The signs include violent or controlling behavior, threats or intimidation, experts say.

Melendez told a co-worker the day before the murder that he planned to kill his wife; another co-worker overheard it.

Eggleston said she does not know for sure what the husband's motive was because “;he had it good,”; with his wife working two jobs while he worked part time as an accountant at the casino at Bally's Hotel.

“;She had said he had threatened her that if she left him, he would take Ciran away from her,”; Eggleston said.

Chennel Melendez's younger brother, Ronaldo Langaman of Hauula, said he suspects their rough childhood contributed to his sister's bad choices.

“;We were all living in a car when we were babies,”; he said. “;Our parents dumped their kids.”;

Langaman was closest to Chennel, his “;Tita,”; who took care of him while they lived together in a foster home. She graduated from Kaimuki High School.

He suspects his sister stayed in the abusive relationship “;because of our past,”; he said. “;We all just want to be loved.”;

The Melendezes' son, now 8, testified at trial that he heard a loud noise, got scared and went to the bathroom.

When he came out, he saw his mother on a chair with a towel on her head.

His father told him that it was juice and ketchup oozing from her ears. He told the boy not to wake his mom.

Mauricio Melendez kept her body in the apartment for 16 hours before calling police.

During that time, he cleaned up, filling a bag full of bloody rags, then lining up the bullets in the closet, according to testimony.

Melendez at first told police his wife committed suicide, then he confessed to killing her, then he said she was playing with the gun and it accidentally went off, Eggleston said.

Eggleston and her husband are in the process of adopting Ciran, who sees a therapist.

“;He misses his mom,”; she said. “;He goes into this sad moment momentarily where he's like, 'I miss my mom.' He basically misses his family and his dad, but he knows what his dad did.”;

At first, Langaman said, he was upset Melendez did not get the death penalty. “;I'd rather he live in prison for the rest of his life and suffer,”; he says now.

In Nevada, capital punishment is reserved for first-degree murder with one of a list of 12 aggravating circumstances, such as torture and mutilation, said Coffee.