TOPEKA (KSNT) – Nearly three years after a Washburn football player was shot to death on the same day his best friend was drafted to the NFL, a jury has reached a verdict Friday for the man accused of murdering him.
KSNT 27 News has had a reporter in the courtroom for the duration of the trial for Francisco Mendez. He was accused of killing Dwane Simmons in April 2019 outside a house party, where the football player was celebrating his teammate Corey Ballentine’s drafting to the NFL. The jury in Shawnee County District Court returned the following verdicts for the 12 counts Mendez faced:
- One count of first-degree murder – Guilty
- Four counts of attempted first-degree murder – Guilty
- Seven counts of aggravated armed robbery – Guilty
The verdict came after witness testimony wrapped up on Thursday. The courtroom heard from various people including Ballentine himself, people who attended the party for Ballentine, and investigators who worked on the case after Simmons’ death.
View KSNT 27 News’ 2021 timeline of events in the Simmons murder investigation below. Click on the links below the pictures to view previous stories as the case developed:
Mendez, who was just 18 at the time of the shooting, had already been jailed three days after the shooting in connection with a separate crime. Shawnee County District Court records showed a judge dismissed the three aggravated armed robbery charges he faced in that case in July 2019. It was not until that month that investigators tied Mendez to the shooting that killed the football player.
The trial for Dwane Simmons’ murder has been long coming, seeing some delays with requests from Mendez’s attorney such as moving the trial to another venue, Mendez asking for a new attorney, and also court shutdowns from the pandemic. Even with a summer 2021 drop-in COVID-19 cases, the Shawnee County District Court again halted dockets for all proceedings except jury trials towards the end of the year.
With Shawnee County COVID-19 cases in the single digits since March 16, the jury trial for Mendez began on the same day. Ballentine took the stand on March 17 to testify about what happened to his best friend, describing a car pulling up to their house party and asking questions before driving away and shooting at them. He identified Mendez as the car’s driver from a photo lineup.