LANCASTER – A 38-year-old man accused of shooting to death a Lancaster man riding his all-terrain cycle in the desert has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Arturo Lopez appeared in an Antelope Valley courtroom Thursday and pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, with an allegation that he personally and intentionally used a rifle to commit the crime, and three counts of possession of a firearm by a felon with one prior (a 1997 conviction for unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle).
The charges stem from the shooting death of 47-year-old Lancaster resident Stephen Finson.
During the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 23, Finson went for a desert ride on his all-terrain cycle, but failed to return home.
Worried family members reported Finson missing, and authorities combed the desert for most of the night looking for the Navy veteran.
Finson was found shot to death the next morning near 135th Street East and Avenue H. Finson was wearing his helmet, and his Honda ATC 250R was upright some 40 to 50 feet north of the dry wash, authorities said.
Lopez was arrested for Finson’s murder on April 30, about two weeks after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $10,000 reward for information on the incident.
More details about what allegedly happened will be revealed at a preliminary court hearing, set for May 20. At the conclusion of that hearing, a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to force Lopez to stand trial.
Lopez has been jailed since his arrest, with bail set at more than $2 million, according to LASD inmate records.
If convicted as charged, Lopez faces 25 years to life in state prison.
The preliminary court hearing for Arturo Lopez has been postponed to May 27. We will continue to follow this story.
The preliminary court hearing began Tuesday, May 27 but did not finish for Lopez. Lopez’s former live-in girlfriend, Vanessa Burks, testified that Lopez told her that he thought he had shot and killed someone. She said Lopez made the admission while both were at another friend’s house getting high on meth. Also taking the witness stand Tuesday was Lopez’s friend, Gerardo “Green Eyes” Amaya. Amaya testified that he was riding in a vehicle with Lopez on Feb. 23, 2014, when Lopez stopped the car on Avenue H and said he wanted to “test fire a new pistol.” Amaya said Lopez got out the car and fired a semi-automatic handgun twice towards the desert. Amaya said he remained in the car and did not see if Lopez hit anything. The preliminary court hearing continues Wednesday, May 28 at Antelope Valley courthouse. We will have more at the conclusion of the hearing.
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