Crime

Killer gets 18 years for gunning down Sanger man on front porch

Manuel Lopez, 38, was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in the killing of 26-year-old Jose Velasquez, who was shot on the front porch of his Sanger home in October 2013.
Manuel Lopez, 38, was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in the killing of 26-year-old Jose Velasquez, who was shot on the front porch of his Sanger home in October 2013. Sanger Police Department

A Sanger man was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in the shooting death of a family man outside his Sanger home in October 2013.

Supporters of Manuel Lopez, 38, said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when 26-year-old Jose Velasquez was shot on the front porch of his home on the 500 block of K Street during the early hours of Oct. 14, 2013.

And Lopez testified in his trial that Velasquez’s killing was an accident. He told the jury he was knocking a gun out of his friend’s hand when it suddenly discharged and killed the victim.

Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. said defendant Manuel Lopez’s attempt to blame his friend for the killing was “a hollow excuse.”

But Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. said Lopez’s attempt to blame his friend for the killing was “a hollow excuse.”

He also said Lopez’s attempt to portray himself “as almost a hero” also was incorrect.

Prior to the deadly shooting, Lopez had drunk beer all day and gone to the victim’s home twice to help his friend settle a dispute, the judge said.

When the victim was shot, Lopez and his friends took off in a sport-utility vehicle, Sarkisian said. And when police pulled over the getaway car, Lopez ran into an orchard.

Police captured him in the orchard and found two guns in his possession, including one that was later matched to the bullet that killed Velasquez, Sarkisian said.

“There was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict him of involuntary manslaughter,” the judge said.

Afterward, defense attorney Ernest Scott Kinney, who defended Lopez, said the punishment was fair. Probation officials had recommended 24 years in prison, and prosecutor William Lacy was seeking a murder conviction that could have resulted in an 84-year sentence because Lopez had prior convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and evading police.

The sentencing wrapped up a two-week trial in which prosecutor William Lacy told the jury that all of the evidence pointed to Lopez as the person who shot and killed Jose Velasquez.

The sentencing wrapped up a two-week trial in which Lacy told the jury that all of the evidence pointed to Lopez as the person who shot Velasquez.

Earlier that day, Velasquez was celebrating a birthday for one of his children, Lacy told the jury.

Shortly after midnight someone knocked on his 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 arrested Lopez, Lacy said, he implicated himself during his police interview when he nodded his head to indicate 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.”

Testimony revealed that 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. 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.

During the trial, Kinney contended that Lopez feared retaliation if he identified them and that police were clueless as to who pulled the trigger.

Sarkisian said Thursday it’s unclear why Velasquez was shot. But the judge praised the Sanger Police Department for its “extensive investigative work” and said only Lopez is to blame for being the sole defendant by remaining silent during most of his police interview.

In announcing the punishment, Sarkisian questioned whether Lopez’s fear was legitimate.

“He has presented behavior that is a serious danger to society,” Sarkisian said, pointing out that Lopez “was on the run” for violating probation for his previous crimes.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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