Franklin Lopez

A Nipomo man who was initially charged in connection to a Sept. 1 homicide in Santa Maria pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempting escape from custody. He will be sentenced to two years probation in January. 

Franklin Edgar Lopez was originally charged with murder for allegedly aiding and abetting his brother, Rafael Lopez, in the death of Cruz Chavez.

According to preliminary hearing evidence, Chavez was fatally shot and stabbed following a workplace dispute at Main Street Produce with Rafael. The prosecution alleged that Rafael Lopez tailed Chavez after their dispute to Bradley and Sunrise before cornering him just before 1 a.m.

Rafael Lopez's whereabouts remain unknown to date, although authorities believe he fled the country to join a Mexican drug cartel.

Authorities also believe Rafael Lopez is linked to two separate homicides, both of which occurred in Santa Maria -- one in December 2015 and one in July 2016. 

After Franklin Lopez’s preliminary hearing concluded in September, the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to hold him on a murder charge based on the prosecution's evidence, which only showed that Franklin Lopez tried to move away from his Nipomo home the day after Chavez's death and sold gun parts to neighbors. As a result, he was held to answer to an accessory charge after the fact. 

In October, the prosecution elected to not move forward with either the murder or accessory charge for Franklin Lopez. Instead, they charged him with the following new felony counts: attempted escape from custody using force/violence, and resisting an executive officer with violence. The events allegedly occurred Sept. 9, four days after he was placed in custody.

As part of the negotiation, the other felony charges will be dropped. 

Franklin Lopez already has served 30 days in County Jail and has been on a GPS monitoring system since his release. He will be sentenced on the new charges Jan. 2, and his GPS monitor will be removed.

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


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