Two Defendants on Trial for Conspiracy, Carjacking, and Battery Allegations


RIVERSIDE, CA — Defendants Jose Fermin Lopez and Michel Fernando Garcia-Zazueta are facing allegations of conspiracy, carjacking, and battery after a physical altercation transpired between them and the alleged victim one evening in a liquor store parking lot.

Surveillance footage was provided by the owners of the liquor store, according to deputies, who said it appeared to be a 2001 Chevrolet truck allegedly driven by Lopez that pulled into the parking lot. Shortly after, a black BMW allegedly driven by Garcia-Zazueta arrived at the store.

Deputies said they recognized Lopez from “prior contacts, and they also associated Garcia as well with the black BMW.”

The victim, who was smoking in close proximity to the truck, was later approached by Lopez, instigating what appeared to be a cordial conversation between them, and Garcia-Zazueta walked out of the BMW shirtless, according to deputies. 

Deputies said they ascertained that Lopez began to punch the victim with his left hand. Garcia-Zazueta then joined Lopez, forcing the victim to assume a defensive position as the two threw hit after hit on him while he was on the ground. 

The deputy said video shows the defendants drove off one by one, leaving the victim lying on the ground. The victim then got up and headed toward the entrance of the liquor store. 

Police were able to locate the same black BMW in the surveillance video parked in front of one of the defendants’ home, leading them to conduct a thorough search of the defendant’s home and vehicle, where they found the same black pants and shoes that Garcia-Zazueta was wearing in the video.

Meanwhile, the deputy said that Lopez was found by the members of the SWAT team.

When they brought him into the interview room, deputies noted his unwillingness to talk about the incident as well as his severely bruised middle finger on his right hand. He was later taken to a holding cell. 

During the cross-examination, the defense counsel asked the testifying deputy whether the plate number of the BMW was evident in the security camera footage, to which he responded, “No.” He also said that none of the witnesses took note of the BMW’s license plate number.

The deputy also admitted that his colleagues already suspected Lopez and Garcia even prior to seeing the surveillance footage, based on the location of the crime as well as the sheer fact that a black BMW was involved. 

Additionally, he said they didn’t take note of any noticeable mark that the vehicle in the security footage might have that could reasonably direct them to the defendant. He admitted to defense counsel that they fingered Garcia on the simple fact that he drove a black BMW. 

The deputy added that they identified Lopez based on the physical characteristics of the assailant in the security footage, all the while admitting that blood stains were absent on one of the defendant’s shirts. 

For the closing statement, defense counsel contended that, regarding the carjacking allegation, there’s “insufficient evidence of intent to take the vehicle that was formed before or during the use of force against (the victim).”

She continued by arguing that when the victim was weak from the beating, the defendants could have used that as an opportunity to steal his car but they didn’t. Moreover, she also added that “there’s no apparent discussion or gesturing or correspondence between the two…as to what to do next,” implying that the conspiracy allegations are unfounded.

She also brought up the fact that there’s insufficient evidence that the beating caused bodily injuries to the victim.

The prosecution said that most crimes the defendants have allegedly committed are crimes of opportunity. He said that the established fight between the two parties suggest that the defendants had an “intent to take the vehicle.” 

The court will reconvene the arraignment on July 28 for Lopez. The preliminary hearing for Garcia is yet to be determined. Their trial will follow.

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