Joseph Mehlenbacher, 18, had been a suspect for several days in the San Diego killing.
Joseph Mehlenbacher. Image via Murrieta Police Department

A young man who was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting another man at an apartment in the El Cerrito neighborhood was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years to life in state prison.

Joseph Mehlenbacher, 20, was found guilty by a San Diego jury earlier this year for the Dec. 26, 2020, slaying of 28-year-old Kenneth Confer at an apartment on El Cajon Boulevard.

San Diego police received a 911 call just after 11 p.m. and arrived to find Confer on a second-floor landing with a gunshot wound to his head. He was taken to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, according to police.

Deputy District Attorney Alex Willett alleged that Mehlenbacher, who was 18 at the time, was staying at a friend’s apartment when he became angered with Confer and others for making noise in a nearby apartment.

Willett said Mehlenbacher first got into a verbal argument with the victim and was brandishing a handgun during the argument.

After his friend initially convinced him to come back inside and shut the door, Mehlenbacher later confronted Confer again and shot him in the head, Willett said.

The prosecutor said Mehlenbacher then fled the shooting scene in a car, but was spotted by law enforcement. The pursuit that followed was terminated by police for safety reasons, as Mehlenbacher’s car reached speeds of more than 120 miles per hour during the chase, according to the prosecutor.

Mehlenbacher was arrested at a home in Murrieta four days later.

Defense attorney Michael Ruiz alleged at trial that law enforcement jumped early on to the conclusion that the shooting was a murder, rather than a potential act of self-defense.

The attorney noted that a knife was found near Confer’s body, which he was known to possess, but Willett alleged that there was no evidence that Confer had used it to threaten or attack Mehlenbacher.

The prosecutor also alleged that at some point after the shooting, Mehlenbacher made a social media post that read, “I told y’all I’m really a shooter, stop playin’,” which Willett characterized as a way of bragging about the killing.

Ruiz said Mehlenbacher’s flight was not meant as a blatant attempt to escape capture, but was instead the action of a scared young man who would have turned himself in, but wanted assurances first that he would receive proper legal representation. The attorney also alleged Mehlenbacher’s social media activity was being used by the prosecution to paint him as a cold-blooded killer, but was more indicative of an 18-year-old seeking attention.

At his sentencing hearing, Mehlenbacher said, “My actions were wrong and unintentional and what happened should have never happened.”

He told Confer’s family members who attended the hearing that he was “truly and deeply sorry” and that he hoped they could “heal over time from all the pain that I’ve brought you.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge Francis Devaney opted against imposing another 25-year-to-life term to Mehlenbacher’s sentence for a firearm enhancement he was convicted of. The judge said that the first-degree murder count required him to impose a 25-year-to-life term, which he noted was a longer period of time than Mehlenbacher had been alive.


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Ellen Bullock