Plea deal reached in 2009 Hilmar homicide

01/30/2013 4:56 PM

01/30/2013 6:46 PM

A 21-year-old man accused of killing his friend when a gun he was holding discharged got seven years in prison Tuesday after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez of Delhi pleaded no contest to one count of voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement for use of a firearm for fatally shooting 17-year-old Saul Lopez on Aug. 15, 2009.

The pair had been at a party in Hilmar, when Gonzalez, playing with a .22 caliber revolver, put the weapon to the victim's chest and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, fatally injuring Lopez, according to Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby.

Colby said there's evidence the shooting was accidental, saying witnesses claimed Gonzalez immediately reacted after the shooting as if it were a mistake. Witnesses said Gonzalez was heard saying, "I am sorry. I am sorry."

The shooting appears to be "a very, very, stupid mistake," Colby said. Given the facts of the case and the defendant’s reckless actions, Colby said the sentence was appropriate.

Interim Public Defender Eric Dumars, the defendant's attorney said the case is a terrible tragedy, saying his client was very upset about the death. "We're really grateful the district attorney’s office pled this out," Dumars said. "He just wishes the whole thing didn't happen."

According to the sheriff's report in the case, the defendant didn't speak with detectives until two days after the shooting, when they picked him up for questioning at a dairy where he was working with his father.

Gonzalez’s account of the shooting was different than statements from witnesses, according to the sheriff's report. Gonzalez claimed he’d been at the Hilmar party with Lopez, who, he called his friend, and he’d asked to see the victim's gun.

Gonzalez told detectives he was holding Lopez's gun in the palm of his hand, when it "just went off" without him even pulling the trigger.

Deputies learned of the shooting after someone dropped the victim off near Lander and Bloss avenues in Hilmar around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 15. 2009.

Before deputies arrived, the victim had been stumbling around near the intersection.

A 20-year-old woman and the victim’s 18-year-old male cousin said they’d received a call from Lopez, asking them to pick him up. The pair drove to the area and found the victim across the street from a McDonald’s restaurant, according to the sheriff’s report.

When deputies pulled up to the scene, they reported seeing victim lying in the back seat of the woman's car, his head in his cousin’s lap.

The victim refused to share details about the shooting after deputies arrived, saying "I don't know" when asked about the identity of the shooter, according to the sheriff's report.

Gonzalez will be eligible for parole after serving about six years in prison. According to the sheriff's report, he is an admitted gang member.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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