The prosecutor in a Fresno County murder trial that began Thursday told the jury all the evidence points to Manual Lopez as the killer.
Lopez, 38, was with a group of men outside Jose Velasquez’s Sanger home when Velasquez, 26, was shot in the head, prosecutor William Lacy said in opening statements of the Superior Court trial.
When police pulled over the getaway car, Lopez ran. After he was caught in an orchard, police found two guns, Lacy said. The Department of Justice later matched one of the guns to the bullet that killed Velasquez and to a live round found at the crime scene, the prosecutor said.
During his interrogation by police, Lopez indicated by nodding his head that he had killed Velasquez. And during his preliminary hearing in August 2014, Lopez saw Velasquez’s wife in the courtroom. According to Lacy, Lopez told the victim’s wife in Spanish: “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
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In his opening statement, defense attorney Ernest Scott Kinney agreed with much of the evidence, but said police have no clue to the identity of the shooter.
Kinney said he’s certain his client didn’t pull the trigger: “There was an accident. But Lopez did not kill anyone.”
If convicted of murder, Manuel Lopez, 38, faces life in prison.
The homicide occurred around 12:15 a.m. Oct. 14, 2013, outside Velasquez’s home in the 500 block of K Street. When officers arrived, they found Velazquez dead on the porch from a single gunshot wound to his right temple.
Kinney said Lopez was working at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, but decided to return to Sanger to visit family and friends.
Kinney said Lopez spent the day before the killing drinking with a friend, Chris Duran, at Duran’s home in Sanger. Duran complained about someone stealing a television, a video game console and other items from his home. Duran decided he’d ask Velasquez whether he knew anything about the stolen property since Velasquez often sold things at a swap meet and from his home.
Lacy said Lopez and Duran made two visits to Velasquez; on the second, Duran brought a gun. Velasquez, however, took the gun from Duran, talked about buying it, but ended up giving the gun to Lopez, Kinney said.
I’m sorry. It was an accident.
Defendant Manuel Lopez allegedly told the victim’s wife
Later that night, Velasquez held a birthday party at his home for one of his children. Lacy described the events that surrounded the killing:
It was shortly after midnight when someone knocked on his door. Neighbors saw three or four people talking to Velasquez on his front porch. Then they heard a gunshot and saw the men running to a white sport utility vehicle. The SUV then sped off.
Shortly after a 911 caller gave a description of the white SUV, Parlier police officers saw it and pulled it over near an orchard. A man ran from the driver’s side of the SUV and got away. Duran was arrested near the front passenger door. Lopez ran, but tripped while running in the orchard. Police found a .22-caliber handgun near him and took him into custody.
After sunrise, police did a more intensive search of the orchard where Lopez was arrested and found a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. An investigation later confirmed the single live round found at the victim’s home was ejected from the 9mm handgun. The bullet that killed the victim had characteristics from the 9mm handgun, but those results were not definitive.
In addition, Lopez and Duran had gunshot residue on their hands, the prosecutor said.
But Kinney told the jury Lopez had no reason to kill Velasquez because they were friends. Kinney suggested one of the other men who visited Velasquez that night shot him, and that it was on accident.
The trial in Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr.’s courtroom is expected to take two or three weeks. If convicted of murder, Lopez faces life in prison.