By Danielle Eden C. Silva
The jury in Jose Alberto Magana Lopez’s trial went into deliberation today after hearing the testimony of the defendant and receiving the closing statements.
The afternoon session began with the defendant, Mr. Lopez, receiving juror questions. He had testified during the morning session and was asked during jury questions how many children he had. Mr. Lopez responded with two children. He was then excused from the stand.
Judge Daniel P. Maguire’s instructions were shared with the jury, pointing out definitions to certain charges and the elements for each crime that must be met in order for the defendant to be found guilty of them. These charges included four felonies (intimidation of victims, threats to commit a crime, stalking, and false personation) and one misdemeanor (harassment over the phone).
Deputy District Attorney Frits Van Der Hoek, representing the People, began the closing statements. Using the projector, the prosecutor outlined all of the elements of the charges, stating how the necessary elements for each charge had been met.
The prosecution began by clarifying how the caller is the defendant, specifically because of the references he mentions in his texts and calls. Mr. Lopez had been sentenced to jail for 120 days and surrendered on August 4; the caller mentioned “120 days” and “the 4th.” His association as a past employee of Green Zone Recycling Center also reveals how the defendant knew the victim’s wife’s
name, which Mr. Lopez spelled on the stand.
The prosecution then stated that Mr. Lopez was the only one who would benefit from using a false identity, not Green Zone Recycling Center. Mr. Lopez was not required to show an I.D. and, while the defendant testified to trying to say he was not Roberto Acosta, Mr. Lopez had reason to hide his identity – at the time, the defendant had outstanding warrants out for him.
Additionally, Attorney Van Der Hoek stated that if they wanted the calls to stop, Green Zone Recycling had no reason to name Roberto Acosta instead of Jose Alberto Lopez if they knew his true name. The use of Roberto Acosta, the prosecution explains, would be the guise under which the calls are made. His actions led to Mr. Acosta being brought to court in Mr. Lopez’s stead.
In the terms of harassing over electronic devices, the voicemails and texts had been shown multiple times throughout the trial. While in some cases this could be interpreted as a defense of property, the jury instructions specifically state that argument is not applicable in this case. The defendant had attempted getting out of jail by calling the ones who reported him. He texted constantly about the DA’s office after having received the formal letter to surrender, matching up again with the documentation of Mr. Lopez.
The prosecution argued there is no defense to killing a family to be excused of committing a crime. The caller clearly wanted to make the problem go away. With this intent, the defendant interfered with the administration of justice and attempted to intimidate the victim to stop. ERJ is that witness and victim. Here, the court decided to take the afternoon recess.
After the court had the afternoon break, Attorney Robert Spangler, representing Mr. Lopez, called for a Morrison hearing where the public was dismissed from the courtroom. Following the Morrison hearing, closing statements continued.
The prosecution continued with stating ERJ is a victim and a witness by claiming that the defendant had intended the statements and threats to be understood as threats. These were unconditional actions based on illegal condition – the caller threatened to kill to have the crime go away. Subjectively and objectively, the victim had a right to fear for himself and his family due to the death threats.
The stalking charge, therefore, was willful and malicious harassment. The defendant had made ERJ concerned for the safety of himself and his family members. There was no legitimate purpose behind the phone calls, the tool no longer being the focus of the argument. These calls were done for the torment. The prosecution, having outlined these circumstances, requested the jury find the defendant guilty on all charges.
Attorney Spangler’s opening statement began by stating his client as physically and mentally unwell and having various issues with the police. The defendant had received threats and mistreatment from law enforcement and was constantly dismissing or having his police reports dismissed. ERJ, Mr. Lopez’s employer, had Mr. Lopez use a fake name, Attorney Spangler reiterated. In addition, Mr. Lopez also knew a lot about home invasion, more than he should.
The defense also called into question the text messages used in court, as they were screenshots. Anyone could have sent those messages but none of that information had been brought up.
Attorney Spangler asked why the complaining witness did not feel threatened in 2016. If he did not get threatened then, the reasonable state of ERJ’s fears was pulled into question. The defense said to view the threats as a cluster – there was both a language and concept barrier, Mr. Lopez was sick, fired, and robbed, and his boss knew about the defendant being robbed. These were all conditions that led him to take the actions he did.
The false personification charge, the defense stated, was questionable due to ERJ’s bizarre testimony. The employer didn’t collect information on him when he was employed and there was no sign that Mr. Acosta and Mr. Lopez even met. The record keeping and proof of Mr. Lopez being introduced as Mr. Acosta are lacking, and, while he answered to the name Roberto, Mr. Lopez never introduced himself as Roberto.
Attorney Spangler stated Lopez never went to the police because he had always gotten arrested. He closed by saying the employers used unlawful means to enrich themselves. He shared if someone actively attempted to get you unlawfully put in jail, the orderly administration of justice is not being done. Attorney Spangler then asked the jury to find Mr. Lopez not guilty on all counts.
In his response, Attorney Van Der Hoek stated that everyone has a right to get to go to the courthouse just as everyone must follow the law. In addition, only one person would want his tools back. He read aloud from the text messages, noting patterned phrases such as “white trash” and paying for “tolls.” The prosecution also argued if the defendant was mentally unwell, a rule would have been included in the jury instructions. These threats, the prosecution reiterated, gave the victim reason to be afraid. The prosecutor also argued since Mr. Lopez could not keep his story straight, he must be a liar. Whenever he was asked certain questions, the defendant would note it as “classified” or simply be unresponsive. The defense wanted the jury to think ERJ is a liar, but ERJ was actually truthful about actions for which he could get in trouble.
The bailiff was sworn in and the jury dismissed for the day. Jury deliberation will begin tomorrow at 9 am.