Francisco Alejandro Mendez, 18, was charged Friday in Topeka, Kan. with first-degree murder in the death of Simmons and attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of Ballentine. Mendez has been in custody since May 1 on three separate counts of robbery. He was not charged until forensic testing was concluded.
“Mr. Mendez was identified by law enforcement as a suspect in the killing of Dwane Simmons many weeks ago,” Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said Monday. “He was in custody at the time, and remains so today. There is a distinction between being identified as a suspect and being charged by my office for the crimes alleged. That distinction lies in the evidence available to the prosecution to meet our burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ballentine and Simmons attended a party hosted by the Washburn women’s soccer team in the early morning hours of Apr. 28. Shots were fired from a car believed to have two to four occupants. Simmons was declared dead on the scene while Ballentine was hospitalized with wounds to his buttocks.
Hours before the shooting, Ballentine became the sixth player in Washburn history to be drafted when the Giants selected him with a sixth-round pick (180th overall). It is unclear how Ballentine, Simmons, and Mendez wound up in the same location. Simmons’ father, Navarro, told local news that the players were asked if they had “smoke for sale”. After they said they did not, the car allegedly circled the block and opened fire on the players.
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Ballentine attended Simmons’ funeral while the other Giants’ rookies attended minicamp. He made a full recovery and is expected to compete for a backup cornerback role and/or special teams contributor when the Giants open training camp on July 22.
Ballentine has not spoken to the media since the shooting. Washburn head football coach Craig Schurig said he talked to Ballentine after the charges were filed.
“He was thankful and expressed relief that justice is being served,” Schurig said. “He is working hard and getting ready for camp. This news helps with his healing.”
Schurig also said he has been in communication with Simmons’ family, especially his father. Navarro Simmons, according to Schurig, said it was “a good day” for the family. However, they are still trying to make sense of the shooting.
The shooting also raised concerns of security on Washburn’s campus. In the interim, Schurig is pleased that Mendez is arrested and hopes it is only the beginning.
“This is a start and more charges will follow soon, hopefully,” Schurig said. “Washburn University and the Topeka community are working together to build a safer and better community around the university. How we have worked together has been impressive and motivating to make positive change in Topeka.”
Mendez, who thus far is the only person charged in the shooting, is being held on a $1 million bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.