coronavirus

1 Year After Church's Chicken Shooting, Victim's Widow Seeks Justice

Due to the pandemic, the judicial system was "frozen".

Ramon Mendoza

It's been nearly a year since a gunman walked into a Church's Chicken restaurant in Otay Mesa and shot three employees, killing a woman, and despite a halt in the legal system due to the coronavirus pandemic, her family continues to push for justice.

Maribel Ibañez, 28, was behind the counter of the fast-food restaurant on Nov. 6, 2019, when a man -- after failing to pay for his food with what was suspected to be a counterfeit $100 bill -- opened fire on employees.

Prosecutors believe that man is Albert Lee Blake, and despite his arrest, have had to put his prosecution on hold, to the frustration of Ibañez' family members.

"He does not know nor can he imagine the damage he has caused to me and his family," Ramon Mendoza, Maribel Ibáñez's widower, told Telemundo 20 in Spanish. The two were married earlier that year.

Blake's indictment on murder and attempted murder charges took place on Nov. 26, 2019, and after his preliminary hearing on Feb. 25, everything was put on hold as the novel coronavirus began spreading through the United States. Eight months have passed since the last hearing.

"We are going into a year and justice has not been served as it should be. What worries me is that, that tomorrow, we wake up and they say that he paid the bail and they let him go free as if he had not done anything," Mendoza said.

NBC 7's Melissa Adan spoke exclusively with Mario Rojas, a survivor of the Church's Chicken shooting.

Currently Blake has a bail set at $5 million but if he were to pay 10% of that, or $500,000, he could be released.

While most judicial services were halted in March, some virtual hearings began again in June. Just this week, jury trials were allowed to resume in San Diego County with special measures to meet current health guidelines.

But Blake will not see a judge again until at least Dec. 2 in the Chula Vista court.

In the meantime, the victim's families are doing what they can to remember their loved ones. On Nov. 6 -- the anniversary of the tragedy -- Mendoza and his family will carry out a vigil outside the Church's Chicken restaurant to pay tribute to Ibañez, who was described as a happy person and a hard worker by those who knew her.

According to prosecutors, on the evening of the shooting, Blake attempted to use a fake $100 bill to pay for his order at the Church's Chicken on Del Sol Boulevard just north of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The suspect then left and allegedly returned from his vehicle with a gun.

Ibañez was fatally shot and her two coworkers, Mario Rojas and Humberto Ruiz were wounded. Rojas, who was shot in the arm and stomach and spent time in the Intensive Care Unit, and Ruiz survived the shooting.

The shooter fled the seen and it wasn't until several weeks later, on Nov. 22, 2019, that authorities apprehended a suspect in Memphis, Tennessee.

This article first appeared in Spanish on NBC 7's sister site, Telemundo 20. To see the original, click here.

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