THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.
LAKEPORT, Calif. – After four hours of deliberating, a jury found a Clearlake Oaks man guilty of first-degree murder and 14 other counts, as well as dozens of special allegations for a Clearlake shooting a year ago that killed a child and wounded five others.
Orlando Lopez, 24, and his attorney, Stephen Carter, received the verdict late Friday afternoon, just days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting, the worst incident of its kind in Clearlake's history.
“There will be an appeal and we feel there are a great many significant appellate issues that higher courts will review,” Carter told Lake County News Friday night.
Lopez and codefendant Paul Braden, 22, also of Clearlake Oaks, have been on trial for several months for the fatal shooting on June 18, 2011, at the Lakeshore Drive home where Desiree Kirby and her boyfriend Ross Sparks lived with their baby daughter and her son, 4-year-old Skyler Rapp.
District Attorney Don Anderson alleged that Braden and Lopez shot into a crowd of friends and family at Sparks' and Kirby's home just before 11 p.m. on that Saturday, killing the little boy, wounding Kirby and Ross Sparks, his brother Andrew Sparks, and friends Ian Griffith and Joseph Armijo.
The jury agreed with Anderson's case, finding that Lopez was guilty of first-degree murder for Skyler Rapp's death; the attempted murder of Kirby, Ross Sparks, Andrew Sparks, Griffith and Armijo; two counts of mayhem for the shootings of Kirby and Andrew Sparks; six counts of assault with a firearm for all of the shooting victims; and a count of discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling. All special allegations were found true.
Kirby, who was wounded and left with permanent injuries, sat in the front row of the gallery, accompanied to the verdict reading by a Victim-Witness Division advocate. Two rows of friends sat behind her.
Despite an admonition from Judge Doris Shockley that there should be no outbursts during the verdict's reading, when the guilty verdict was announced on the first-degree murder count, Kirby and her family and friends shrieked with joy before a bailiff warned them to stop.
Testimony in the case began in late February following a month of jury selection in which two juries – one for Lopez and one for Braden – were seated.
Lopez's jury – composed of four women and eight men – began deliberations Friday morning after closing arguments and jury instructions had been concluded early Thursday evening.
Also on Friday, at the same time as the Lopez jury's deliberations were taking place, their colleagues on Braden's jury were hearing closing arguments by Anderson and Braden's attorney, Doug Rhoades.
Throughout the day on Friday Lopez's jury sent Shockley, a visiting Yolo County judge, several notes with questions about evidence.
At one point Friday morning, Shockley called a brief break during Anderson's closing statements before the Braden jury in order to go into chambers with the attorneys to discuss the Lopez jury's communication.
Other notes followed and at around 2:30 p.m. the jury reported that it had reached a verdict.
Shockley scheduled Lopez's verdict reading to begin at 4:30 p.m. in order to give her time to continue instructing the Braden jury on how to handle its deliberations.
The Braden jury was ordered to return at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, when Shockley will finish instructions and the jurors will begin deliberations.
Jury released, sentencing scheduled
Following the verdict in the Lopez case, Shockley asked Anderson and Carter if they wanted the jurors polled. Both said no.
Shockley then turned to the jury, thanking them for their service and patience. There had been a lot of challenges, she said. “You’ve been so very considerate.”
The judge, who said she works in 15 different counties as a visiting judge, said that the court staff in Lake County “is pretty amazing.”
She then excused the jury just before 5:15 p.m.
Lopez agreed to waive time for sentencing, which Shockley set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7. She ordered the full probation report to assist in sentencing be ready by Friday, July 27.
At sentencing Lopez is facing the potential for time equaling several life sentences, said Anderson.
As Kirby’s family and friends began leaving the courtroom, some stopped to hug and thank Anderson.
He told Lake County News after the verdict that he hopes the case will lead young people to realize how acting in anger before thinking can ruin lives forever.
Anderson said he had been concerned about Lopez’s case, as he felt it was not as strong as his case against Braden.
During trial Anderson had produced several witnesses who testified to seeing Braden with a gun before the shooting.
However, only one person – former codefendant Kevin Stone – testified to seeing a firearm, in this case a shotgun, in Lopez’s hands at the scene, where he admitted to driving Stone and Braden that night. He claimed Lopez had told him they were going to commit a robbery.
Stone reached an agreement with Anderson last fall to plead no contest to being an accessory to the murder after the fact, conspiracy to commit robbery and being a prohibited person with a firearm. Those charges will mean he’s looking at a total sentence of 10 years and four months in prison.
This was the first case Anderson – who is 18 months into his first term as district attorney – has prosecuted.
He’s taken heavy criticism from various quarters of the community for handling such a complicated case his first time out. Rhoades called attention to Anderson’s lack of experience as a criminal prosecutor in one of the case’s mistrial motions.
The case – which had Anderson squaring off against Rhoades and Carter – wasn’t without mistakes.
A question that Anderson should not have asked of a Clearlake Police officer in the presence of both juries led to one of several mistrial motions, which ultimately were denied.
He also misspoke about evidence during Lopez’s closing arguments – wrongly attributing comments by Lopez to Braden – which led to admonishments by Shockley to be more careful in his comments to the jury.
Asked why he took on the complex and emotionally charged case, Anderson told Lake County News, “It was the type of case that I had an extreme amount of interest in and wanted to follow through.”
He also has been with the case from the beginning. He said he was called to the scene the night of the shooting, and while there he met some of the people involved and decided he wanted to continue to be involved with the case.
Anderson said he also considered the potential backlash if he lost, but it ultimately wasn’t a major concern for him.
“I’m in this job to do things right and not worry about reelection,” he said.
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org .