John Lopez continued his testimony Tuesday during the trial of Luis Sosa, the defendant accused of shooting and killing Frank Tacadena on September 13, 2006. The trial’s third day began where the second left off – Lopez, at the cue of prosecutor Hilary Dozer, walked the court and the jury through the day’s events leading up to and after the shooting. The day’s testimony ended with a cross-examination by defense attorney Doug Hayes, who alleges that, in fact, Lopez was the shooter in the case.
After being picked up by his cousin moments after the shooting, Lopez recounted, he, Sosa, and Sonja Salazar (Lopez’s girlfriend) drove to Ventura in order to avoid contact with Santa Barbara law enforcement. At one point in the journey, Lopez switched cars and was driven by Salazar the rest of the way. She was not privy to what had happened according to Lopez; only that Lopez and Sosa were “in trouble” and needed transportation.
Lopez claimed that, although he knew there had been a confrontation between Tacadena and Sosa, he was not aware of the details or the severity of the situation until later that day when Salazar reported seeing their “wanted” pictures on the evening news. After spending the night in Ventura at Lopez’s cousin’s residence, Lopez and Salazar left for Santa Barbara and were subsequently arrested on the drive back.
Both Hayes and Dozer spent considerable time trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the murder weapon during specific time periods of September 13. During their time in Ventura, Lopez explained, Sosa had maintained possession of the gun – a six-shot .22-caliber handgun – which he had taken from Lopez’s apartment earlier that day.
It is Lopez’s claim that Sosa had the weapon in his possession for the entire day before throwing it off the Ventura Pier later in the evening. It is not known whether Sosa will take the stand at all.
Upon his arrest, Lopez continued, he struck a deal with detectives that if he cooperated and gave a full and accurate account of the shooting, Salazar would be cleared of all charges and not be held as an accessory to murder. After this agreement was reached, Lopez eventually named Sosa as the shooter. A childhood friend and fellow gang member of Sosa, Lopez had such a difficult time naming Sosa, Dozer told the court, that detectives allowed Lopez to write the same down instead of verbalizing it.
Lopez did not, however, tell detectives in the three interviews immediately after his arrest that the gun used to kill Tacadena was his; this was only revealed later. Lopez explained this inconsistency by expressing his fear of legal reprisal; he had past felonies and was not permitted to carry a weapon.
Dozer also revealed to the court that because of Lopez’s cooperation with law enforcement and his subsequent naming of Sosa, a “green light” has been placed on Lopez by the Ventura Avenue Gangsters-the gang to which Lopez and Sosa belong. This designation makes Lopez a target for violent retaliation or, as Lopez himself put it, “possible homicide.”
After Dozer’s examination, Hayes began his line of questioning. He began by attacking the credibility of Lopez’s memory and accounts by highlighting Lopez’s past abuse of alcohol-he reportedly drank up to a half-gallon of vodka a day and had been hospitalized numerous times for sclerosis of the liver.
Hayes also illuminated Lopez’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement in past violent incidents, including a shooting on July 30, 2006, during which three rival gang members attempted to break into Lopez’s house on West Islay. During the incident, Lopez fired five shots from inside his apartment, wounding one man before fleeing the scene. He has not been charged with any crime in connection with the shooting. Lopez admitted to dropping the gun used in that shooting off the Ventura Pier.
Palpable tension arose during Hayes’s examination when he continually interrupted Lopez’s answers and responses. Both lawyers became agitated and were called to the bench by Judge Ochoa who soon resolved the preceding confusion.
The trial will continue at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.