Jose A. Mendez

Jose A. Mendez, who was fatally shot by a woman Wednesday, had served prison time for assaulting a girlfriend in Hartford and had a case pending against him in connection with a similar incident in East Hartford. (April 11, 2014)

WEST HARTFORD — The 23-year-old Hartford man shot and killed by a woman who said he had repeatedly threatened to kill her and her children had a history of violence toward women, records show.

Jose A. Mendez, also known as "Bebo," had served prison time for assaulting a girlfriend in Hartford and had a case pending against him in connection with a similar incident in East Hartford.

In both of those cases, police said, Mendez threatened to kill the girlfriends and their children. In the Hartford case, he subsequently violated a criminal protective order that he stay at least 100 yards from the woman and her child. Police noted in both cases that the women expressed genuine fear of Mendez.

The woman in the Hartford case was "genuinely afraid that her life was in peril," an officer noted in a report.

In both of those earlier cases — and as is alleged in the West Hartford case — Mendez sent threatening text messages and made threatening calls to the women.

On Wednesday evening, according to police, Angela Grasso-Cunha shot and killed Mendez in a car on Prospect Avenue in West Hartford.

Grasso-Cunha, 27, of Plainville, later told West Hartford police that Mendez, whom she had been dating for about three weeks, repeatedly threatened to kill her, her children and others in her family. She told police that she shot Mendez in self-defense.

Her lawyer, Walter Hussey, said that text messages on her cellphone bore out that claim.

She shot Mendez in the head with her Glock 9mm pistol, police wrote in a report, because "she saw it as her only opportunity to stop him from following through on his threats, which she believed were inevitable."

She told detectives that she did not call police or seek other help earlier because Mendez had told her that he would get released on bail and "find her because he knew where she lived."

West Hartford police charged Grasso-Cunha with first-degree manslaughter with a firearm and released her after she posted $50,000 bail. At her arraignment Thursday, Judge Joan K. Alexander increased her bail to $750,000, which Grasso-Cunha also posted.

Grasso-Cunha works as a bail bondswoman for Capitol Bail Bonds of Hartford. She is now under house arrest.

Mendez's sister said Friday that her family does not accept the claim of self-defense.

"In this situation, there was every intention to kill my brother," Stephanie Lopez said. She called the manslaughter charge against Grasso-Cunha a "slap in the face."

"One shot to the head is not protection, it's a murder," Lopez said. "If he was so much of a threat, why even get into the car?"

Hussey, the defense attorney, said that first-degree manslaughter with a firearm was a serious charge and carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

He said he was confident that West Hartford police would find on Grasso-Cunha's phone, which they seized, threatening text messages from Mendez. "There's no doubt they are going to find things that are going to support her position," Hussey said Friday.

Hussey said Mendez knew that Grasso-Cunha had a gun in her handbag and he repeatedly told her that he was going to kill her and her family with that gun.

The issue is what "she subjectively believed and whether it is reasonable," Hussey said.

In the Hartford case involving Mendez, in November 2010, police went to a home on Preston Street where Mendez's then-girlfriend told them that Mendez had broken into her apartment, punched her in the face and taken her car. Mendez repeatedly told the woman that "he would shoot at her house and kill her and her [daughter]," according to a Hartford police report.

Later, when police stopped her car, which had been reported stolen, another man was driving it. Mendez sent a text message to the woman who owned the car telling her that she had better bail the man out of jail or Mendez "would find her and kill her," according to a report.

In June 2012, police were called to the woman's home again after Mendez went there and threatened to kill the woman for putting him in jail. He was armed with a black handgun, police said.

He served prison sentences for both offenses.

In the East Hartford case, Mendez went to the home of his estranged girlfriend on Nov. 1, 2013, and demanded that she give him $400, according to police. When she refused, he went outside and smashed the windshield of her car, police said.

He fled and the woman called police. Mendez sent the woman text messages threatening to kill her and her children, and she feared for her life, police reported.

One of the text messages, according to police, was: "U wrong for dat ma rns but i promise if I dont get my money ima kill ur mother and ur kids dats word to my mother."

Police obtained a warrant and Mendez was arrested on Dec. 12, 2013, on charges of threatening, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.