By Danielle Eden C. Silva and Samantha Romero
Man Accused of Using a False Identity
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
The trial of Jose Alberto Magana Lopez began in Department 10 today. Mr. Lopez is charged with four felonies, intimidation of victims, threats to commit a crime, stalking, false personation, and one misdemeanor of harassment over the phone.
Prior to the jury’s presence, Deputy District Attorney Frits Van Der Hoek requested to use a voicemail that contained both Spanish and English. The People intended to use this audio clip for their opening statement. The defense, headed by Conflict Panel Attorney Robert Spangler, argued that the content was not relevant and was intended just to inflame the jury. The People argued this voicemail further showed harassment of the victim on a repeated basis.
Judge Daniel P. Maguire, in learning there was no translation for the Spanish portion, admitted the English portion as there would be inequality between jurors who understood Spanish and those who did not. The People noted they believed the victim did not understand Spanish, but the context of the call was harassing despite the language barrier.
The jury was admitted into the courtroom. The court read the formal charging document and the counts placed against Mr. Lopez.
In the opening statement by the People, Mr. Van Der Hoek shared that the victims were associated with the business known as Green Zone Recycling Center and in June 2016 had reported annoying
and harassing phone calls. The defendant had been a past worker but was known to the victims as “Roberto Acosta.” The People played two voicemails containing obscene language which Mr. Van Der Hoek interpreted as Mr. Lopez feeling mistreated and angry, a disgruntled former employee. A third voicemail was shared, with the caller threatening to kill the receiver’s wife.
The People then shared the court file was identified under Roberto Acosta but several factors noted in the voicemail calls, namely the notes of going to jail “on the 4th” and a “120 days” sentencing, matched up with Jose Alberto Lopez’s file instead of Roberto Acosta’s. In a photo lineup including both Mr. Lopez and Mr. Acosta, the victims pointed the caller out as Jose Alberto Lopez with 100 percent certainty, but would address him as Roberto Acosta.
Two more voicemails were played, with threats of bodily injury unless the victims called certain people. The caller was using witness intimidation, saying if he got deported, he would kill the victim’s family. Several text messages were also shown containing these threats, noting something that happened on “2010” that the caller would reveal.
Attorney Spangler’s opening statement depicted this as a case of social injustice and how social injustice is received. He noted there are people who do not have the ability to receive protection, and often shady businesses take advantage of that. Mr. Lopez could not help his situation and Green Zone Recycling Center preyed on his position.
The defense stated that Green Zone Recycling gave Mr. Lopez the identity of Mr. Acosta, as Mr. Lopez never knew Mr. Acosta was a real person, bringing into question how the ID card of Mr. Acosta was obtained. These threats were not to dissuade the witness from telling the truth but, in context, attempts of bringing forth the truth.
The first witness to appear was one of the receivers of the threats, “ERJ.”
ERJ had worked at Green Zone Recycling Center since 2007. He identified Mr. Lopez as Mr. Acosta, and shared that the defendant had been an employee but he was uncertain of the start date.
The defendant was told by ERJ and his son, “REJ,” that, due to constant two- to three-week disappearances, he may lose his employment. Following this, the death threats began. Eventually, the victim reported this to the police as the messages were involving his daughter-in-law and wife, and by then it had been time to do something about it. The People played the voicemail audio clips which ERJ identified as the voice of the defendant, the man he knew as Mr. Acosta.
ERJ additionally noted that there had been a change of the caller’s phone number, as well, and he also began to send text messages. These were shown to the police on the day of or before the time of reporting. ERJ also shared that during the photo lineup where he picked out Mr. Lopez, he was aware that if he did not recognize anyone, he would not choose anyone. More of the voicemails were played and the reference to “2010” was not understood by the witness.
After the death threats first began, ERJ eventually informed his family of the situation so they could be on the lookout for suspicious activity. This concerned what the People described as immediate family threatened to be killed. He reiterated the messages sounded fake but he grew convinced the threats were very real.
During cross-examination, ERJ stated he was a general overseer of the facility, but someone else supervised the employees. He wasn’t sure who had employed the defendant, but it likely himself or his son. A constant topic of tools appeared in the texts and calls; the witness claimed he had no knowledge of the defendant bringing tools to the workplace. ERJ claimed he had encouraged the caller to come retrieve them, but the caller never did so, to his knowledge.
The defendant hadn’t received worker’s compensation since he was not on the payroll, being be paid in cash instead. ERJ was also unaware that Mr. Lopez had been injured five different times on the job, stating this should have been reported to the supervisor then to him. The defense stated that Mr. Lopez had been injured on a forklift which had brake issues which, ERJ did not consider unusual.
The defense asked about whether the recycling plant collects pictures of IDs, specifically to be certain the recycled metals are not illegally obtained. ERJ shared they did do that and those IDs could be found on file. Additionally, the defense asked if ERJ sent a person to retrieve money from Mr. Lopez, which he denied.
ERJ was dismissed and his son, REJ, was brought to the stand.
REJ worked with bookkeeping in the Green Zone Recycling Center and had also been receiving the death threats his father was receiving. He identified them as coming from the defendant, whom he addressed as Roberto Acosta. During one phone call he received before the officers arrived for a report, the caller told the witness he would blow his head off if he wasn’t given money. Additionally, REJ received a call about going to jail on the 4th.
When REJ contacted an officer and viewed a photo lineup, he also identified Mr. Lopez with 100 percent certainty as to being the caller, but he identified him as Roberto Acosta instead. The court went into recess for the lunch hour, expected to continue the direct examination during the afternoon session.
Witnesses Testify in Trial of Man Accused of Using a False Identity
by Samantha Romero
The jury trial for defendant Jose Alberto Magana Lopez reconvened on Tuesday afternoon in Department 10.
The first witness called by Deputy District Attorney Frits Van Der Hoek, representing the People, was “EJ,” employer at Woodland’s Green Zone Recycling Center.
EJ explained to the court that he knew the defendant only as “Roberto Acosta,” not as Jose Lopez, at the time of the incident. The witness also claimed that he offered the defendant a fair value for his tools so that the threats would cease.
EJ testified that the defendant was still employed in the recycling shop during the time of the threats.
Attorney Robert Spangler, representing Jose Lopez, asked if there was any actual proof of the conversations that contained threats between EJ and the defendant. EJ noted that he only had the voicemails left by the defendant.
EJ is not subject to recall.
The next witness called by the People was Officer Mark Gojkovich of the Woodland Police Department. On July 26, 2016, Officer Gojkovich was dispatched to the recycling center to address the complaints made by EJ.
Once at the recycling center, Gojkovich noted that there were 42 voicemails on EJ’s mobile phone. The officer proceeded to record the voicemails via digital audio recorder and booked the audio recordings into evidence.
Officer Gojkovich agreed with the People that he would be able to identify the time and date of a few voicemails if they were played in the court.
However, it was not the officer’s memory that stunned the jury, but the clear profane threats that the court heard. Three voicemails were played for the court, two in English with profanity used and another in a different language.
At the time of the dispatch, Officer Gojkovich also took a photo of the defendant’s employee ID, which showed his name as “Roberto Acosta,” and submitted it into evidence.
When Officer Gojkovich investigated further, he found out that there was no home address, only a phone number (the same one from which he contacted EJ with the threatening voicemails). The police report was sent to the district attorney’s office and then the officer asked for a warrant for Mr. Lopez’s arrest.
The last witness of the afternoon was Detective Joshua Amoruso of the Woodland Police Department. Detective Amoruso’s role was to create a photo lineup and have both EJ and “RJ” (another employer of Green Zone Recycling Center, who was not present in court in the afternoon session), identify the accused.
Officer Gojkovich is not subject to recall.
EJ and RJ were separately able to identify Jose Lopez during the photo lineup. They were both 100 percent certain of their identification of the defendant, said Detective Amoruso.
However, it wasn’t until June 26, 2017, that Amoruso and another patrol officer went to the defendant’s residence and placed him under arrest.
Detective Amoruso is not subject to recall.
The jury trial will reconvene Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. in Department 10. Judge Maguire announced that the jury should be going into deliberation by the end of the afternoon on Wednesday.