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September 15, 2019

Jamie Taylor/River NewsMarathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad, presiding in Oneida County, listens to victim impact statements Tuesday, July 23, prior to sentencing Robin “Bob” Mendez to life in prison for the 1982 murder of his wife, Barbara.
Jamie Taylor/River News

Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad, presiding in Oneida County, listens to victim impact statements Tuesday, July 23, prior to sentencing Robin “Bob” Mendez to life in prison for the 1982 murder of his wife, Barbara.
7/25/2019 7:30:00 AM
Mendez sentenced to life in prison
Heather Schaefer and Jamie Taylor
of the River News

The final chapter in one of the Northwoods' most enduring murder mysteries was written Tuesday afternoon when Judge Jill Falstad sentenced Robin "Bob" Mendez to life in prison for the "heinous" and "vicious" murder of his wife Barbara more than three decades ago.

Mendez was convicted of first-degree murder in April following a court trial that featured testimony from his daughters, a forensic consultant who identified the probable murder weapon, and two inmates who claimed he confessed to the crime while they were locked up together in the county jail.

The guilty verdict, delivered by Falstad on April 30, came 37 years and two days after Barbara was struck from behind while wrapping up her workday as a teller at the former Park City Credit Union in Minocqua.

In a 90-minute oral ruling, Falstad found Oneida County district attorney Michael Schiek had proved beyond a reasonable doubt it was the victim's husband, and not a robber as the defense argued, who bludgeoned the 33-year-old Mendez on April 28, 1982.

The credit union manager, Helen Koepke Gray, found the young teller on the floor of the credit union at approximately 7:30 p.m. April 28. However, her time of death was estimated to be approximately 5:15 p.m. as computer records show she was completing her final tasks at 5:13 p.m.

Bob Mendez, now 70, was charged with murder in February 2018 after the Oneida County detective bureau, with assistance from the television show "Cold Justice," reopened the unsolved case.

At trial, the state argued Bob Mendez took advantage of a unique circumstance - April 28 was the first and only time Barbara was responsible for closing the credit union by herself - to remove his wife from his life before she could make public his illegal sexual involvement with a 14-year-old girl.

Tuesday's sentencing hearing began with the ritual of victim impact statements.

One by one, four of Barbara's relatives addressed Falstad, each trying to find words to convey the impact of their loss.

Barbara's oldest daughter Dawn Shape, who appeared via phone, read a translation of Psalm 23. Barbara's sister Diane Blaszkowski noted she and her siblings have had an opportunity Barbara was denied, to watch their children grow to adulthood and welcome their grandchildren into the world.

Barbara, she said, would have loved to have been a grandma.

Barbara's sister Nancy Muth noted that Bob Mendez not only took away her sister, he kept his children from their mother's family.

"He told the girls (who were 11 and 13 when their mother was killed) that we didn't care about them. It took years until we saw them again," she said. "He didn't stop with killing Barb, he removed his daughters from our lives."

Nancy also spoke to the anguish of being asked how many siblings she has and sometimes responding with the explanation that Barbara "passed away".

"Barb did not pass away," Nancy said. "She was murdered and her murderer has been living a free life all these years."

Finally, Barbara's son-in-law Christopher Wadas spoke of the journey his wife, Christy, has been on for 17 years of their 18-year marriage.

"I never knew Barb but I married her daughter," he said. "That was 18 years ago and it was about 17 years ago when Christy realized the truth about who killed her mother."

Wadas went on to explain how the case has shadowed his wife and impacted their child.

"The impact that (Mendez) has had is like a rock in the middle of a pond and the ripples just went down and surrounded and touched everybody in different ways," he said.

"He's been free long enough," Wadas added.

Speaking on behalf of the state, Schiek explained that, according to the laws in place in 1982, the mandatory sentence in this case is life in prison. Any parole consideration would be up to the Department of Corrections, he added.

"It's a mandatory life sentence but we can't forget what this family has endured for last 37 years," Schiek said, adding that it may have taken decades to make the case against Bob Mendez but Barbara was never forgotten and she never will be.

Defense attorney Peter Prusinski kept his comments brief. He noted that Mendez is 70 years old and has a history of serious health issues. He asked that his client's health be taken into consideration in determining where he will serve his sentence.

Given his chance to speak, Mendez simply shook his head.

Falstad was left to offer the last words and she did not hold back.

"Mr. Mendez got away with this heinous, vicious murder for decades through lies and manipulations," she said, noting that Barbara would have been defenseless in her office that evening.

"She certainly did not see it coming," the judge said.

Falstad also noted that Mendez used his daughters to set up his alibi and instilled in his children a fear and distrust of law enforcement in his own self-interest.

The Mendez daughter suffered "profound, life-altering damage" she added, before agreeing with the family that this crime has rippled through the generations and continues to cause untold anguish.

The judge also noted Mendez' history of sexual abuse of children.

(He is a convicted sex offender).

She called him "callous" and "selfish" and stated that he appears to lack a conscience.

"He seems to feel entitled to take what he wants," the judge said, adding that Mendez has not taken responsibility for Barbara's death or expressed remorse.

After finishing her withering description of the defendant's character, Falstad formally sentenced Mendez to life in prison.

She indicated he will be transported to Dodge Correctional for processing.

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