General Crime

* Joseph Lopez Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for th murder of a man in a Santa Rosa parking lot

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A Santa Rosa man was sentenced to life in prison in Sonoma County Superior Court this afternoon for the shooting death of a man in a Santa Rosa parking garage in 2006. Joseph Lopez Jr. was sentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder, 25 years to life for personal use of a firearm, and three years and eight months for enhancements alleging possession of a firearm and participating in a street gang. The sentences are consecutive.  “We have got to stop this violence. It can’t be tolerated in our streets,” sentencing Judge Lawrence Antolini said. A jury convicted 21-year-old Lopez Jr. on April 2 of murdering 32-year-old Matthew Toste of Santa Rosa, but jurors found the murder was not committed in furtherance of a street gang. The murder occurred Dec. 3, 2006, when Toste, his date, a female cousin and her husband were in a parking garage on Seventh Street in downtown Santa Rosa on their way to a nightclub. In the garage, Lopez Jr.’s father, Joseph Lopez Sr., now 41, made a derogatory comment to the women. Toste swung at Lopez Sr. and knocked him out. Lopez Jr. then shot Toste twice in the chest. Lopez Jr.’s attorney, George Boisseau, asked the judge not to impose the 25-years-to-life-term on the gun charge, which he said would be “cruel and unusual punishment.”  He also said Lopez Jr. shot Toste because he was defending his father. But Chief Deputy District Attorney Spencer Brady asked for the
maximum term of 40 years to life for the murder, use of a gun charge, and the additional three years and eight months on the other two charges. Several members of Toste’s family spoke during the sentencing hearing. His mother, Sally Lewis, said seeing her son during the autopsy “was unbearable.”   “I am not the same person I was,” she said. The killing “left a permanent scar in my life,” she said. Toste’s father, Bob Toste, said Lopez Jr.’s behavior was  “thuggish.” He said his son would have defended Lopez Jr.’s sister or mother if they had been accosted in the parking garage that night. Thaddeus Toste said his brother always stood up for what is right.
    “A good man is gone and a cowardly killer is here,” he said. Lopez Jr. was with his father and three Santa Rosa friends that
night. All five were indicted for murder by a Sonoma County grand jury. Lopez Sr. pleaded no contest to being a member of a criminal street gang and being an accessory to a felony. He was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison as part of the plea agreement. Raul Lopez-Granados, 22, pleaded no contest to being a street gang member and an accessory to a felony in the Toste murder case and to an assault with a deadly weapon charge in a separate case on July 9, 2006. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison in the Toste case and four years in prison for the separate assault case. Nicholas Mejia, 32, pleaded no contest to being a street gang member and an accessory to a felony in the Toste case and to possession for sale of methamphetamine on Oct. 10, 2007 and assault with a deadly weapon on Nov. 16, 2006. He faces a maximum six-year term on all charges as part of the agreement when he is sentenced. The jury that convicted Lopes Jr. acquitted Paul Whiterock, 30, of all charges. Lopez Jr. did not speak at the sentencing, but Boisseau said he has expressed remorse. He said his client was 18, had a drinking problem and was intoxicated at the time of the murder.  “His actions were motivated because someone near and dear to him was in danger,” Boisseau said. Brady argued for consecutive sentences on all the charges and enhancements. He said Lopez Jr. remains a danger to society. Brady said Toste was unarmed and outnumbered, and, “There was no justification for the shooting whatsoever.” Antolini decried the general prevalence of guns in society and the fact the defendants were drinking alcohol at a barbecue and were still allowed to leave, at least one of them armed, to go downtown that night. “There has to be a message so loud and clear that weapons will not be tolerated in our community unless one has a legal right to them,” Antolini said.    
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