A Sanger man faces up to 24 years in prison after a jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a family man outside his Sanger home in October 2013.
Manuel Lopez, 38, would have faced up to 84 years to life if he had been convicted of murder, as the prosecution contended in Fresno County Superior Court.
In a verdict late Wednesday afternoon, jurors found Lopez used a gun but he didn’t intend to kill Jose Velasquez, Fresno defense attorney Ernest Scott Kinney said. Jurors left the courtroom without explaining their verdict, Kinney said.
Jurors said Manuel Lopez had used a gun but found he didn’t intend to kill Jose Velasquez.
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During the two-week trial, Lopez testified that he was trying to prevent Velasquez from being shot when the gun accidentally went off.
But prosecutor William Lacy said all of the evidence pointed to Lopez as the person who shot Velasquez, 26, on the porch of his home on the 500 block of K Street during the early hours of Oct. 14, 2013.
Earlier that day, Velasquez was celebrating a birthday for one of his children, Lacy told the jury.
Shortly after midnight someone knocked on the victim’s front 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.
When officers arrived, they found Velazquez dead on the porch from a single gunshot wound to his right temple.
Once police pulled over the getaway car, Lopez ran, Lacy said. After he was caught in an orchard, police found two guns, the prosecutor said. One was later matched to the bullet that killed Velasquez and to a live round found at the crime scene, Lacy told the jury.
Lopez also implicated himself during his police interview when he nodded his head to indicate that he had killed Velasquez, Lacy said. 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.”
Lopez was guilty of talking to police.
Defense lawyer Ernest Scott Kinney
Kinney told the jury that “Lopez was guilty of talking to police.” When he gave his account of the shooting, Lopez was hung over and had had little sleep, Kinney said.
Kinney noted that Lopez didn’t pull the trigger. Instead, he told jurors that Lopez cut his hand while trying to knock the gun out of his friend’s hand.
One of his friends, Chris Duran, who was in the SUV when police pulled it over, was arrested with Lopez but never charged because of a lack of evidence, Kinney said.
The identity of the two other men with Lopez and Duran that night were never confirmed because they were never apprehended. Lopez identified them only as Primo and Critic. Kinney said Lopez feared retaliation if he identified them.
Duran never testified in the trial because he told the court that he would invoke his right against self-incrimination.
Kinney said Thursday that it didn’t make sense that Lopez was the shooter.
He worked at a hotel in Lake Tahoe but had decided to return to Sanger to visit family and friends.
On the day of the shooting, Lopez spent the day at Duran’s home in Sanger drinking and partying with friends, Kinney said. Duran, however, was upset that day. He complained about someone stealing a television, a video game console and other items from his home.
During the day, Duran and Lopez went to Velasquez’s home to ask whether he knew anything about the stolen property, since Velasquez often sold things at a swap meet and from his home. Later that night, according to Lopez’s testimony, the group went to the victim’s home because Primo wanted to score some drugs.
When Lopez and Duran were arrested, they both had gunshot residue on their hands. But Duran had more gunshot residue than Lopez, Kinney said.
Lopez, who has a 2012 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, will be sentenced March 17 on the manslaughter charge.