Minneapolis man convicted in gang-related killing; body found in rural Washington County

·4 min read

Sep. 11—After deliberating for 1 1/2 hours on Friday afternoon, a Washington County jury found Angel Ignacio Sardina-Padilla guilty of first-degree murder in the May 2019 killing of Jose Natividad Genis Cuate.

Sardina-Padilla, 34, of Minneapolis, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The family of Genis Cuate, 47, of Minneapolis, appeared thankful and happy after the verdict was read just after 5 p.m. They watched the trial from a viewing room adjacent to the courtroom in Stillwater so a family member could translate testimony from English into Spanish.

Prior to sentencing, Genis Cuate's niece described how much he had helped her growing up and "how he had overcome a difficult childhood and how loving and kind he was," Assistant Washington County Attorney Thomas Wedes said. "She said that he will be missed every day."

Authorities found the body of Genis Cuate on June 2, 2019 face-down in a pond next to a drain culvert that runs under 176th Street North in May Township in northern Washington County. Prosecutors have called the killing gang-related.

During closing arguments on Friday, Assistant Washington County Attorney Nick Hydukovich held up the evidence bag containing the black leather belt officials found cinched tightly around Genis Cuate's neck.

"He didn't deserve to have this belt wrapped around his neck. He didn't deserve to have his body dumped in a culvert like a piece of trash and left to decompose for eight days," Hydukovich said. "He wasn't a piece of trash. He deserved better."

Witnesses testified during the two-week trial that they saw Sardina-Padilla assault Genis Cuate in a Minneapolis apartment on the night of May 24, 2019. Witnesses also reported seeing Sardina-Padilla place what appeared to be a body into the trunk of a Ford Edge SUV, according to Hydukovich.

Hydukovich played for the jury a video that Sardina-Padilla allegedly sent to a woman via Facebook Messenger that showed Genis Cuate being dragged on the floor with a belt wrapped around his neck. He also displayed two photos side by side: one was a still photo taken from the video showing an arm tattoo, and the other was a photo showing Sardina-Padilla's arm tattoo; both appeared similar in coloring and pattern.

Sardina-Padilla later used Facebook Messenger to send a Pioneer Press article about Genis Cuate's body having been found in May Township to five different people, Hydukovich said. "He's bragging about it. He sent it to a woman named Michelle with a note saying, 'I've made mistakes, Michelle.'"

When another person asked who the man in the article was, Sardina-Padilla responded: "The guy I took down." "Folks, why would anybody who didn't commit this crime send these messages?" Hydukovich asked.

Cell-phone records and GPS data collected by investigators placed Sardina-Padilla near the scene of Genis Cuate's death at 2520 12th Ave. S. in Minneapolis and near the location of where the body was found in May Township, Hydukovich said.

A second man, Luis Alfredo Cortez Mendoza, 25, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty last year to aiding an offender — accomplice after the fact — in connection with Genis Cuate's death. He also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting attempted first-degree murder incident in connection with another incident. He was sentenced to 13 years and 6 months in prison.

Cortez Mendoza testified at trial that he saw Sardina-Padilla assaulting Genis Cuate and then saw him bring a body out of a bedroom, Hydukovich said. "Folks, you can connect the dots," he said.

Criminal defense attorney Brian Liefeld told the jury that there were "inconsistencies" in Cortez Mendoza's story. Under the terms of Cortez Mendoza's plea agreement, he said, Cortez Mendoza received a reduced sentence in return for his testimony. "If his story changes, his plea agreement is in jeopardy," he said.

Wedes said he was pleased with the verdict — and how quickly the jury reached it. "We felt the evidence of guilt was overwhelming," he said. "A life was lost, the defendant was responsible for that loss, and he has been sentenced for that loss to life in prison without parole."

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