MERCED – The case of five defendants accused of killing two men outside
the Club Azul nightclub in Los Banos has come to a close, as all of the
defendants have accepted plea agreements with the Merced County district
Prosecutors say the victims, Angel Rodriguez, 30, and Ruben Sanchez, 34,
were members of the Mongols biker gang, while the defendants are members
of the Norteño street gang.
The accused shooter in the case, Mando Lopez, 22, will be sentenced to
21 years in prison after pleading no contest Monday afternoon to two counts
of voluntary manslaughter, with an enhancement for using a gun. He’ll
be eligible for parole after serving about 18 years in prison, according
to Deputy District Attorney David Elgin, the prosecutor in the case.
Mando Lopez’s twin brother Armando Lopez, along with defendants Joe
Castillo, 26, and Francisco Esquivel, 21, pleaded no contest to accessory
after the fact and a second charge of active participation in a criminal
street gang. They were released from the jail with credit for time served.
The fifth suspect, Isaac Bermea, 19, pleaded no contest to accessory after
the fact, with a prior strike. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison,
but was released with credit for time served, Elgin said.
The double homicide took place around 2 a.m. Aug. 7, 2011, in an alley
near the nightclub after an altercation between the gangs, authorities
say. But Elgin said it’s still unknown what sparked the conflict
between the two sides.
Elgin said the prosecution reached plea agreements with the defendants
because of several factors. For example, Elgin said the witnesses were
all aligned with one gang or the other, and gave contradictory and biased
He said the video surveillance footage in the case wasn’t particularly
useful because the cameras did not capture crucial moments of the incident.
Still, Elgin said DNA linked to the Lopez brothers was found on the gun
used in the shootings. Investigators determined Mando Lopez was the shooter,
based on a clothing description and other information which eliminated
Armando Lopez as the triggerman. “Because of the way the facts were
in this case, I believe that we got a just result,” Elgin said.
Tom Pfeiff, Mando Lopez’s attorney, was reached on Tuesday, but declined comment.
Claim of innocence
Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Armando Lopez’s attorney, said he couldn’t elaborate on details
about the case, but said his client maintains he’s innocent. “My
client continues to deny any involvement but is willing to accept the
terms of his probation and move on,” Tenenbaum said.
Attorney William A. Davis represented Esquivel, saying the case against
his client was based on nothing more than “guilt by association,”
saying prosecutors would’ve had a difficult time getting a conviction.
Davis said his client was at the nightclub when a “verbal fracas”
happened that involved his friends.
Davis said the case was complicated because there were video cameras inside
and outside of the nightclub, “and yet (they) really did not shed
that much light on (the incident),” he said.
Still, Davis said the resolution was appropriate for his client. “This
was a good compromise for him, and he can get on with his life,” he said.
David Capron represented Castillo; and Chris Loethen represented Bermea.
They could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Mando Lopez is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Brian McCabe on Feb. 8.