Trial looms in shooting case linked to Senate sergeant

A drug- and alcohol-fueled gun battle that left one man dead at the suburban Sacramento residence of a legislative security officer has shed light on the unusual power of a longtime Senate employee and ended the career of the Senate’s chief sergeant at arms.

Two suspects in the robbery, kidnapping and ensuing gun play during the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2012, are scheduled to stand trial in Sacramento County Superior Court. The trial’s opening, scheduled for today, was delayed until Aug. 13 to allow more time to round up witnesses, file motions and begin jury selection, said defense attorney Danny D. Brace.  The trial is getting under way as the Legislature meets in the final month of its 2013-14 session.

Charged are Frank Trevizo and Francisco Merjil. A third suspect, Thomas Ordonaz, pleaded no contest on July 25 and awaits sentencing. Trevizo has criminal record that dates back to 1997. In October 2005, he was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.

The violence broke out at the house of Gerardo Lopez, a member of the Senate’s staff of sergeants at arms. Merjil’s brother, Joseph, was killed in the exchange of shots in the residential cul de sac about seven miles south of the Capitol. Near his body in the street was a bottle of Crown Royal whisky that the revelers had been drinking not long before, investigators said.

Lopez admitted after the shooting to using marijuana that night and police said he tested positive for cocaine, but police and prosecutors have maintained he was a victim of a home invasion robbery.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, fired Lopez this spring when he learned that he had used drugs. A week later, Tony Beard resigned from his job as chief sergeant at arms, a position he held since 1980, after he admitted that he knew about the test results but did not tell the Senate leader.

The sergeants, as they are known in the Capitol, provide security for legislators. Lopez is the son of veteran Senate employee Dina Hidalgo, the Senate’s chief human resources staff person. Hidalgo currently is on paid leave. Lopez’ wife, Jennifer Delao, also works in the Senate.

The Sacramento Bee reported that five members of Hidalgo’s family and three members of her softball team work in the Senate. The Senate has hired an outside law firm to investigate its hiring practices, which are not subject to state civil service rules.

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 come help him recover the money.

Authorities say the men robbed Lopez and a friend, Jessica Agualla, and then kidnapped her. When the gunfire erupted, Lopez and Agualla were injured. Lopez went on medical leave in January 2013.

Ed’s Note: Updates 2nd graf with trial delayed until Aug. 13. 


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