The brother of a man who killed his ex-girlfriend by stabbing her dozens of times admitted Friday he helped his sibling cover up the crime 23 years ago in Placentia and was immediately sentenced to a year of informal probation.
Armando Lopez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of dissuading a witness from reporting a crime. As part of the plea deal with prosecutors, a felony charge of being an accessory after the fact was dropped.
Orange County Superior Court Judge David Hoffer told Lopez that if he violated the terms of his probation, he could face up to a year in jail.
Lopez’s brother, Samuel Agustin Lopez, 45, was sentenced in May 2015 to 26 years to life in prison for the stabbing death of ex-girlfriend Cathy Torrez.
Co-defendant Xavier Francisco Lopez, a cousin of the brothers, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in October 2015 and was sentenced to time already served behind bars.
Juan Gustafo Barroso also was charged as an accessory after the fact, but charges against him were dismissed in September 2008. He remains under investigation, however.
Tina Mora, the victim’s sister and ex-wife of Armando Lopez, told Hoffer that the defendant, for 23 years, “continued to avoid the truth with his brother and cousin.”
She added, “Armando, you harmed Cathy by your words and your actions to cover up for your brother … Your culpability in Cathy’s murder is recognized today.”
After the hearing, Mora told City News Service that she wished her ex- husband had received a tougher punishment. Another of the victim’s sisters tearfully told the judge that she didn’t “have the words to explain” the impact her sibling’s death had on the family. Debbie Torrez noted how Armando Lopez appeared to help in the search for her sister before the victim’s body was found.
“Today’s sentence may not seem significant in a criminal courtroom, but justices comes in different ways and everything that happens in darkness must come to light,” she said.
Hoffer said he was touched by a photo of the victim that Tina Mora held up as she made her victim impact statement to the judge.
“Cathy just jumps right out of that picture,” Hoffer said. “It’s like she’s here. She should be here today… I like to think she was.”
Given the passion Samuel Lopez had for his ex-girlfriend, Hoffer said he still finds it “perplexing” that he killed her in such a vicious way.
At his sentencing, Samuel Lopez took the unusual step of admitting his guilt and apologizing to the Torrez family.
The confession came as a shock to his brother, according to Armando Lopez’s attorney, David Swanson.
“Until Sam admitted that he committed the crime at sentencing, (the defendant and his family) all still believed that he was innocent because he had told them he didn’t do it and, as family members do, they believed him,” Swanson told City News Service. “Armando was shocked and saddened and he and the rest of the family felt very badly about what happened.”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told jurors at Samuel Lopez’s trial that he killed his on-again, off-again girlfriend on Feb. 12, 1994, after the 20-year-old Cal State Fullerton student rejected his proposal to elope.
Cathy Torrez was still alive when she was forced into the trunk of her car, where her body was found a week later. She had been stabbed about 70 times.
The killing occurred in an apartment complex in Placentia, Murphy said. The victim and Samuel Lopez were in her car while Xavier Lopez was in Samuel’s pickup truck, Murphy said.
Xavier Lopez told investigators he saw the ex-couple arguing and then heard screaming from the car, so he ran over and pulled his cousin off the victim because he thought she was being punched and was sliced accidentally with the knife, Murphy said.
Xavier Lopez calmed his cousin and then they carried the victim to the trunk of the car and put her in, Murphy said.
A car drove by at that point and the two, nervous they had been spotted, drove the victim to a nearby hospital parking lot that would have “24-hour activity so a car parked there for a long time could go unnoticed,” the prosecutor said.
Xavier Lopez also told investigators that he saw his cousin essentially finish the job of the killing when he opened the trunk and slashed away at the victim again, Murphy said.
—City News Service