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Elias Mejia

SAN JOSE -- A man shot and killed by police March 18 after reportedly trying to run down a police officer with a stolen car was the prime suspect in the city's ninth homicide, possibly explaining why he was fleeing from authorities, the San Jose Police Department announced Tuesday.

An accomplice was arrested and jailed last week in connection with the two-month-old homicide case, which has been deemed by police as a gang-related hit.

SJPD's METRO special-enforcement unit was looking for 27-year-old Elias Mejia on March 18 in connection with the killing a week earlier of 44-year-old Daniel Canales in East San Jose. The team spotted Mejia in a neighborhood off South White Road, driving a Honda Civic they determined was stolen.

Officers blocked in Mejia's car and he tried to ram his way out, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the shooting because it was in an unincorporated part of the city.

San Jose officer Bruce Barthelemy had gotten out of his unmarked police car when the Honda accelerated toward him, authorities said. Barthelemy fired a single shot at Mejia, who was hit and later died at the hospital.

Canales' body was found early the morning of March 11 lying in the driveway of a home on Murtha Drive off East Capitol Expressway, dead from an apparent gunshot wound. An ensuing investigation led detectives to suspect Mejia, and eventually to Faustina Teresa Lopez, a 26-year-old San Jose resident who was arrested May 21 on suspicion of murder with a gang enhancement.

Mejia was a father of four who in light of a serious criminal history including evading police, drug use and domestic violence, was once thought by a judge to be capable of redemption.

During a March 25, 2010 sentencing hearing for a probation violation, Mejia was asked by Judge Socrates Manoukian if he enjoyed being behind bars, according to a court transcript.

Mejia answered "I don't sir. I got 3 kids and one on the way. I'm just trying to get back to them."

At the time of sentencing, Manoukian told Mejia "Don't screw it up, OK? Get this behind you. All this. Get your record sealed. Get off probation and enjoy the warm weather. This is all stupid stuff, you know."

"You're a smart young man," Manoukian told Mejia. "You need to think of the future."

A year later, Mejia was arrested by San Jose police for driving a stolen 1995 Honda Accord around White Road and Murtha Drive, the street where Canales was found. He pleaded no contest to charges of theft or unauthorized use of a vehicle, resisting an officer and using methamphetamine.

In December 2006, San Jose police executed a search warrant at a home with multiple people inside, including Mejia. Police found a gun in the closet and several items of gang indicia and gang photographs, according to a probation report.

Mejia told the officers the items in the closet were his. Mejia reportedly had gang tattoos on his body but told police he was not an active gang member, according to the probation report.

For Barthelemy, a five-year SJPD veteran, Mejia's death marked the second time in four months he was involved in a police shooting.

On Nov. 16, Jonathan Dawson Wilbanks and 15-year-old Adonis Muldrow were allegedly in the midst of a robbery spree that included the slaying of 22-year-old Rory Park-Pettiford at a 7-Eleven in West San Jose when they ambushed an officer with a hail of bullets at Tully and Lanai avenues. Barthelemy came to the wounded officer's aid and returned fire, striking Wilbanks twice. Both suspects were eventually caught and charged in the spree.

Bay Area News Group staff writer Paul T. Rosynsky contributed to this report. Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.