By Linh Nguyen
EL DORADO COUNTY – In 2016, Tevarez Lopez was arrested as an accomplice in the death of a man in a marijuana deal—but two years later, SB 1437 was passed into California’s constitutional law, and since then, Lopez has been waiting for courts to apply the law to his charges.
Senate Bill 1437, approved in late 2018, amended the felony murder rule and probable consequences doctrine, ensuring that “murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
Therefore, under the bill, to be convicted of felony murder, the accused must be the actual killer, one who corroborated with intent with the actual killer, or be a major participant in the crime who acted with indifference to human life.
Lopez is arguing that’s not him.
The crime occurred on the night of Jan. 30, 2016. A man named Dennis Wright, Jr., brought at least 100 pounds of marijuana to the Beverly Lodge in Lake Tahoe to sell to an interested party. Wright was shot and killed that night around 7:45 p.m. in the parking lot of the motel.
The South Lake Tahoe Police Department arrested seven suspects over the course of eight months after the shooting. Tevarez Lopez, Harvest Davidson and three other co-defendants were charged in El Dorado County with Wright’s murder and two counts of robbery.
Lopez was not at the crime scene, though he was involved in marijuana sales with a few of the witnesses and co-defendants. In the afternoon of the day of the murder, Lopez said he would not be present for the deal, citing family matters to take care of, he told a witness.
After the shooting, Lopez told law enforcement that he had known the victim for a few months and had made smaller marijuana deals with him. Lopez also said he had nothing to do with the shooting nor any robbery. Law enforcement also looked at Lopez’s call log and text messages between him, the co-defendants and the victim, though none of them indicated involvement in the murder.
Lopez and his co-petitioners filed for relief under SB 1437 once it was approved, though the prosecution opposed the motion and argued that SB 1437 is an invalid attempt to amend Propositions 7 and 115.
Lopez argues that he was not a major participant and did not act with reckless indifference to human life because there was no evidence he knew of any weapons, he was not present at the crime and there is no evidence a killing was planned by anyone.
The appellate court, however, discussed and found that Lopez facilitated the robbery by ensuring that the victim arrived at the appointed time and place.
The court cited, “Physical presence is not invariably a prerequisite to demonstrating reckless indifference to human life. Where, for example, a defendant instructs other members of a criminal gang carrying out carjackings at his behest to shoot any resisting victims, he need not be present when his subordinates carry out the instruction in order to be found to be recklessly indifferent to the lives of the victims.”
In his letter to THE VANGUARD in late December 2020, Lopez argued that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra opposed his petitions because “common prudence would have a suspicion that [Lopez] acted with reckless indifference to human life and that [he] also was a major participant in the underlying felony that resulted in a death.”
Lopez also argues that his public defenders acted with incompetence and misconduct because they refused to argue for his innocence when the appellate court gave them the option to have an oral argument.
There were also injustices on the stand-in judge’s behalf in the South Lake Tahoe court when he denied Lopez’s 995 motion to dismiss charges on SB 1437.
The judge granted only 10 minutes to present the argument because there was a possible snowstorm and he did not want to be stuck in Tahoe, according to Lopez. The judge also admitted to not reading the transcripts from the preliminary hearing because they were extensive.
Lopez also said that the prosecutor acted with misconduct because he falsified a document at this hearing. He was caught doing so, but he quickly withdrew it and changed the subject.
Lopez maintains his innocence, and said he is still awaiting court proceedings and relief of his charges under SB 1437.
Linh Nguyen is a third year Political Science student at UC Davis, also pursuing a minor in Professional Writing. She is an aspiring investigative journalist from San Jose, California, who also shares interests in literature and baking. Linh is the co-editor in chief of the Vanguard at UC Davis.
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