Jury selection began Tuesday in the case of a gun battle at the suburban Sacramento home of a state Senate sergeant that left one person dead and others injured.
The Senate security officer, Gerardo Lopez, has since been fired from his post after it was disclosed that he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Lopez, who told police he was the victim of a home-invasion robbery, was wounded in the exchange of an estimated 20 shots outside his Greenhaven house in the early hours of Dec. 22, 2012.
Lopez was not charged. He told police he emptied his Glock pistol during the gun battle.
Charged in the shooting are Frank Trevizo and Francisco Merjil. A third suspect, Thomas Ordonaz, pleaded no contest to robbery charges on July 25 and awaits sentencing. Trevizo has a criminal record that dates back to 1997. In October 2005, he was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Curtis M. Fiorini ordered jury selection to get under way. Jury selection is expected to last until Thursday. The trial is expected to take several weeks.
Fiorini also rejected a Sacramento Bee request to allow a still photographer to take pictures of the trial, citing privacy issues and the potential impact on minors who may be called to testify.
The case has drawn attention in part because of Lopez’s Senate connections.
He is the son of Dina Hidalgo, the chief human resources staff person for the Senate. Lopez’ wife, Jennifer Delao, also works in the Senate. Lopez’s former boss, Chief Senate Sergeant Tony Beard, retired from the Senate earlier this year following disclosures that he did not notify the Senate leader about Lopez’s drug use.
Merjil’s brother, Joseph, was killed in the exchange of shots in the residential cul de sac about seven miles south of the Capitol. His body was in the street, outside Lopez’ residence.
Police interviewed Lopez at a South Sacramento police station on Jan. 3, 2013. He was accompanied by Che J. Salinas, a registered lobbyist and former aide to three state Senators, including former Senate Leader Don Perata, D-Oakland.
During a preliminary hearing in September, Ryan Bullard, a Sacramento Police Department detective, testified that Salinas “was there as a family friend but he also happened to be an attorney.”
Salinas is a lobbyist with the law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, which lists some three dozen lobbying clients, including AT&T, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Intel Corp., Oracle America and Toyota Motor North America.
Chet Templeton, a lawyer for Merjil, said in an earlier interview that the defense attempted to question Salinas, but “he refused to speak with us.”
The suspects had been at Lopez’s house after a night at a bar in south Sacramento. Police say Trevizo was angry when he noticed he was missing a $100 bill. He called the Merjil brothers and Ordonaz to help recover the money.
Authorities say the four men robbed Lopez and a friend, Jessica Agualla, and then kidnapped her. When the gunfire erupted, Lopez, Merjil and Agualla were injured.
Trevizo is charged on three counts of robbery, one count of kidnapping, and on one count of illegally possessing a firearm as a previously convicted felon. Merjil also being tried on the same charges as Trevizo, except the firearms count.
Ed’s Updates earlier story with beginning of jury selection; recasts and tightens.