Posted on: October 28, 2022, 10:13h. 

Last updated on: October 28, 2022, 10:38h.

An Arizona man was sentenced this week to two concurrent life prison terms. The sentence stems from the shooting death of a taxi driver outside of Casino Arizona three years ago.

Gabriel Milford Kavoka
Gabriel Milford Kavoka, pictured above, in a mug shot. He was sentenced to two life sentences for the shooting death of a taxi driver outside of Casino Arizona. (Image: KNXV)

On Thursday, US District Court Judge Susan M. Brnovich sentenced the defendant, Gabriel Milford Kavoka, 39, of Scottsdale. The hearing took place in Phoenix, Ariz. federal court.

Kavoka earlier pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and carjacking resulting in death charges, according to a court document. The incident took place on Aug. 21, 2019, in Scottsdale’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Kavoka took a taxi to Casino Arizona and, when he arrived at the property, shot the driver, Hilario Mendoza, in the casino’s parking lot. Kavoka then stole the taxi. Mendoza died shortly after being shot, relatives told the media at the time of the murder.

The entrance to Casino Arizona
The entrance to Casino Arizona, pictured above. Three years ago, a taxi driver was shot and killed while in the casino’s parking lot. (Image: Casino Arizona)

The shooting instigated a high-speed chase police chase which ended in Mesa, Ariz. when the stolen vehicle collided with a police car near Gilbert Road and East Oak Street. It is about eight miles from the casino.

In 2020, Kavoka was indicted on first-degree premeditated murder and carjacking charges. The murder charge later was lowered to second-degree murder.

Victim was Father of Three

In the days following the murder, it was revealed that the victim was a 45-year-old father. He left behind three children. At the time of his death, they were 11, 14, and 17 years old.

“I would have given the person the car, I would have given the person whatever amount of money. Because nothing is worth taking a person’s life,” Hector Mendoza, Hilario’s brother, told KPHO, a local TV station, after the shooting.

They took a good person for nothing,” the victim’s mother, Maria Mendoza, further told KPNX, another local TV station, days after the shooting. “I didn’t even have the chance … to say goodbye to him.”

Mendoza was driving for a local company, VIP Taxi, for only two weeks before the shooting. He wanted to return to a prior career in construction when the weather got cooler.

Mendoza apparently had driven Kavoka to another casino first, before Kavoka said it was the wrong casino. So Mendoza then drove him to Casino Arizona.

Defendant is Ex-Con

Before Thursday’s court proceeding, Kavoka served time in prison for assault and weapons charges, according to KNXV, another local TV station. He was sentenced to almost 13 years for those crimes.

In 2004, he pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon and discharging a firearm during an incident involving law enforcement officers, KPNX reported.

Kavoka initially was released from prison in November 2018. Twice, his supervised release was revoked by federal officials, KNXV said.

Kavoka is a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.