Surveillance footage may be key in murder trial

By Yesenia Amaro / yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 6, 2012 

Footage from video surveillance cameras could play a role in the case against five defendants accused of killing two members of the Mongols biker gang outside a Los Banos nightclub last summer.

They made a brief appearance in court Wednesday in the double homicide case.

Twin brothers Armando and Mando Lopez, 22; along with Francisco Esquivel, 21; Joe Castillo, 26; and Isaac Bermea, 19, each face two counts of murder with gang enhancements in the deaths of brothers Angel Rodriguez, 30, and Ruben Sanchez, 34. Defense attorneys will meet with their clients today in court to review the surveillance footage, shot from security cameras at Club Azul the night of the murders. The cameras were in several locations on the club's patio and inside the building.

Attorneys haven't elaborated about what the footage shows.

Judge Brian McCabe on Wednesday postponed the preliminary hearing in the case until Dec. 6, and the hearing is expected to take several days. Tom Pfeiff, Mando Lopez's attorney, said a status conference is scheduled for Sept. 28, to determine whether defense attorneys can negotiate plea agreements with the prosecution.

The five defendants are accused of killing Rodriguez and Sanchez during the early hours of Aug. 7, 2011, in the 500 block of I Street in an alleyway near Club Azul.

Authorities claim the defendants are members of the Norteño criminal street gang.

Deputy District Attorney David Elgin is prosecuting the case. Jeffrey Tenenbaum is representing Armando Lopez; William A. Davis is representing Esquivel; David Capron is representing Castillo; and Chris Loethen is representing Bermea.

Tenenbaum said his client's involvement appears to be minimal, if any.

"(Armando Lopez) looks forward to his day in court," he said.

Meanwhile, Davis, Esquivel's attorney, expressed doubt about the video footage, saying, "It gives us an overview, but it's not complete."

Loethen said the case is serious and complex. He and his client, Bermea, have reviewed the evidence that has been collected in the case, including the surveillance video.

"He has consistently maintained his innocence and we are prepared to move forward," he said.

Pfeiff, who is representing Mando Lopez, said evidence is questionable. The cameras, which are located in several different places, record still images about every five seconds, making it hard to follow, he said.

"None of them are aimed at the exact places where everything is going on," he said. "It's really questionable what happened that night."

The Lopez brothers were taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service in Las Cruces, N.M., months after the double homicide.

Days later, the three other defendants were in custody. Castillo was arrested in San Jose by the U.S. Marshals Service. Esquivel turned himself in at the Los Banos Police Department and Bermea was already in custody on probation violations.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209)385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsun-star.com.

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