ATV enthusiast shot in 2014
A state appellate court panel this week upheld a Lancaster man's conviction for the shooting death of an all-terrain vehicle enthusiast in the desert more than nine years ago.
The three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense's contention that Arturo Lopez's attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel in his retrial by failing to object to testimony from two of the defendant's former girlfriends about his prior firearm use.
Lopez was convicted in 2021 of second-degree murder for the Feb. 23, 2014, shooting of Steven Finson, 47, of Lancaster, who was found on the ground near his ATV after his wife reported him missing.
His 2016 conviction on the same charge was overturned by a state appellate court panel, which ruled in 2018 that the trial court had erroneously instructed jurors in Lopez's trial on two theories of guilt–one of which was legally correct and the other which was legally incorrect.
In the latest ruling, Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss wrote on behalf of the panel, “The prosecution's theory of the case was that Lopez purposefully shot Finson, a moving target, from at least 100 yards away. As the defendant's own expert acknowledged, such a shot would require proficiency with firearms. Accordingly, Lopez's almost daily target practice, during which he often shot at small animals, was relevant to his familiarity with firearms and his ability to hit a moving target from a distance.''
The appellate court panel also noted that the testimony from Lopez's two ex-girlfriends was relevant to refute the defense's argument that the shooting occurred accidentally and to undermine an account by Lopez's friend that Lopez had stopped along the road to test-fire a handgun.
“Given the evidence that Lopez often shot guns on his property–even multiple times inside his home–there was no need for him to test-fire a gun from the side of the road,'' Perluss wrote, with Associate Justices John Segal and Gail Ruderman Feuer concurring in the ruling, which noted that the “frequency and nature of Lopez's prior firearms experience was highly probative of his ability to shoot Finson from a distance.''
Lopez, now 47, is serving a 45-year-to-life state prison sentence.