It’s the stuff movies are made of. Nonetheless, a real-life murder-for-hire plot meant serious consequences for several people, including one who was almost killed-despite the fact he had originally contracted for the planned murder himself-and several others arrested in relation to the attempted murder.
According to law enforcement accounts, it all began a few weeks ago-authorities aren’t sure of the exact date-when Francisco Taran Lopez, 23, solicited 28-year-old Jose Loza to kill another man, 22-year-old Victor Garcia, whom Lopez believed to be romantically interested in his girlfriend. According to authorities, Loza, with the help of a 15-year-old accomplice, agreed to murder Garcia for the simple bounty of a Ford Thunderbird.
Loza and the 15-year-old headed to Lompoc on Sunday, October 21 to look for Garcia, whom they found with his cousin, 28-year-old Victor Amezcua. They all knew one another, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Erik Raney said, and as the four were talking, the death contract was revealed. The four then allegedly conspired to kill Lopez. “They said [to Garcia], ‘We’re supposed to kill you, but let’s go kill Lopez instead,'” Raney said. The group rejoined Lopez, going as far as blindfolding and binding Garcia and inviting Lopez to witness Garcia’s murder for himself. When the group arrived at a remote hilltop location off East Camino Cielo, investigators said, Lopez was attacked by the four men, stabbed seven times, strangled, and thrown over the side of the road, then left for dead by the group. Lopez took two days to climb back up the mountain, where he was discovered by a group of hikers and taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
The same day Lopez was attacked, authorities allege, Loza and the 15-year-old robbed an 82-year-old woman in Lompoc. According to authorities, the two, who have been assigned public defenders, allegedly took more than $400 worth of jewelry and other goods. The plot thickened the day after the robbery, when Loza and the 15-year-old, allegedly high on methamphetamine, “became paranoid that Francisco Lopez’s girlfriend could become a witness to their crime,” Raney said. So they lured the woman, Griselda Garcia of Lompoc, to their car, intending to kill her, according to authorities. The three headed south, stopping at a Carpinteria restroom. During the pit stop, the 15-year-old became paranoid that he, in fact, was going to be killed and then allegedly attacked Loza and Griselda Garcia with a knife.
The teen then took off, apparently running across Highway 101 and into a residence, from which he allegedly stole a car. Driving north on Highway 101, the suspect was spotted near Gaviota by a CHP officer, who gave chase-at speeds that sometimes reached 100 miles per hour-until the teen crashed the 2003 Nissan Altima, which exploded into flames moments after the officer pulled him from the car. The teen escaped serious injury with just a few bumps and bruises, but was booked into Juvenile Hall for attempted murder, criminal conspiracy, burglary, and grand theft auto. Investigators quickly connected the series of events, Raney said.
Victor Garcia and Loza were found in Downey and are being charged with attempted murder and criminal conspiracy. Loza and the 15-year-old-who have been assigned public defenders-were both arraigned on Monday, November 5, on nine felonies stemming from the Lompoc robbery. The teen is now being charged as an adult. Lopez, upon his release from the hospital a week after the attack on him, was arrested for solicitation of murder, attempted murder, and criminal conspiracy. Attempts by The Independent to speak with the accused or their lawyers failed, save for James Crowder, a public defender who at one point was assigned to Lopez’s case. He indicated that Lopez would plead not guilty. Investigators are still seeking Amezcua, whose last known address is in Lompoc. He could be in possession of Lopez’s red 2000 Ford Mustang, license plate number 4JPT690. Those with information should call (805) 568-3399.