Making Amends or Threatening to Kill?

By Amy Schwanhausser

In Department 13, the closing argument from the defense stated that alleged criminal threats were based on exaggeration and misunderstanding. The defendant, Daniel Lopez, is accused of willfully threatening to kill and harm his ex-father-in-law.

On Jan. 1, 2019, Mr. Lopez arrived unannounced at his ex-father-in-law’s workplace. This was their first face-to-face interaction in months and neither side could agree on what was said.

For the defense, Deputy Public Defender Stephen Betz emphasized that the encounter between Mr. Lopez and his ex-father-in-law was a hasty and unsuccessful attempt to make peace. After months of working on his divorce, Mr. Lopez realized he wanted to start the new year by clearing the air with his ex-father-in-law. Clearly, his conversation did not go as planned.

As soon as Mr. Lopez parked his truck, he realized he was not entirely welcome. He was unable to step out of the truck because his ex-father-in-law stood in his way. His ex-father-in-law immediately asked something to the effect of “what are you doing here?” Mr. Betz pointed out that Lopez was caught off guard by this blunt wording and became uneasy.

During the ensuing conversation, Mr. Lopez believed he heard his ex-father-in-law tell him to go home and get some sleep. Fearing he misheard, Mr. Lopez calmly repeated the statement as a question. However, his ex-father-in-law interpreted this as Mr. Lopez threatening to put him to sleep. His ex-father-in-law believed he also heard Mr. Lopez threaten to kill him in plain words, which Mr. Lopez denied.

Even if his ex-father-in-law misinterpreted these statements as threats, Attorney Betz reminded the jurors that the ex-father-in-law had said in his testimony that he was not physically afraid of Mr. Lopez. The absence of fear was also implied by the fact that the ex-father-in-law made two calls before dialing 911.

Mr. Betz concluded that the alleged threats to kill were misheard and misunderstood. This would not have caused the ex-father-in-law to have a sustained fear for the safety of himself or his family. Therefore, Mr. Lopez is not guilty.

Conversely, the prosecution, which was represented by Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Novelli, focused on Mr. Lopez’s demeanor and intent. The threats of physical harm were clearly serious and intended to evoke sustained fear.

Lopez’s ex-father-in-law claimed he received at least three threats of physical harm. The ex-father-in-law remembered hearing that he was going to be beaten up, put to sleep and killed. These threats would not be present in an amicable attempt at reparations with an ex-father-in-law.

Attorney Novelli reiterated that multiple witnesses claimed Mr. Lopez was nervous, desperate and out of control. Any reasonable person would interpret Mr. Lopez’s abnormal behavior, alarming gestures and the late hour of the unexpected visit as causes for alarm. His ex-father-in-law had every right to be fearful and take these threats seriously, Attorney Novelli urged.

The ex-father-in-law was so unsettled that he made two calls before dialing 911. First, he called his daughter to make sure that she was safe and had not received any threats from Mr. Lopez. Then he called Mr. Lopez’s mother to discuss calling the authorities. Attorney Novelli stated these calls were proof that his ex-father-in-law had sustained fear for the safety of himself and his family.

Attorney Novelli concluded that Mr. Lopez voiced clear and purposeful intent to kill or injure his ex-father-in-law. These words were not exaggerated or fabricated later, but were intended to cause lasting fear. For these reasons, he is guilty of criminal threat.

After hearing these closing arguments, the jury was sent to deliberate.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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