LANCASTER – A 44-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man have pleaded to multiple felonies for their after-the-fact role in the murder of Stephen Finson, the Lancaster man shot to death while riding his all-terrain cycle in the desert this past February.
Christine Lee Banghart and Antonio Lopez appeared in an Antelope Valley courtroom Wednesday and pleaded no contest to accessory after the fact of murder and conspiracy to commit a crime, destroying evidence, according to court records. Banghart also pleaded no contest to an additional felony count of offering false evidence in connection with Finson’s murder investigation.
Banghart’s boyfriend, 39-year-old Arturo Lopez, is accused of killing 47-year-old Finson on Feb. 23, 2014.
That afternoon, Finson went for a desert ride on his all-terrain cycle but did not return home. After a desperate all-night search by family members, Finson’s body was located the next morning near 135th Street East and Avenue H.
The Navy veteran was still wearing his helmet, and his Honda ATC 250R was upright some 40 to 50 feet north of the dry wash, sheriff’s officials said.
An autopsy revealed that Finson died from a gunshot wound to the head, believed to have come from a .30-caliber bullet that went through the back of his helmet and exited through his open face mask, according to Sgt. Robert Martindale of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
More than a month after Finson’s death, and two weeks after a $10,000 reward was offered to help solve the crime, authorities were tipped off to convicted felon Arturo Lopez.
Arturo Lopez was arrested April 30 and charged two days later with one count of murder with an allegation that he personally and intentionally used a rifle to commit the crime. He was also charged with three counts of possession of a firearm by a felon with one prior. A search of Arturo’s residence on the day of his arrest had turned up a .22 rifle, a .22 caliber revolver and a black scope, homicide detectives testified at a preliminary court hearing in May.
During that same court hearing, Gerardo “Green Eyes” Amaya testified that he was riding in a vehicle with Arturo Lopez on Feb. 23, 2014, when Arturo stopped the car on Avenue H and said he wanted to “test fire a new pistol.” Arturo then got out of the car and fired his weapon twice towards the desert, Gerardo Amaya testified.
Also testifying at the preliminary court hearing was Arturo’s ex-girlfriend, Vanessa Burks, who said Arturo told her that he thought he had shot and killed someone.
Arturo then asked her to hide him from law enforcement, but she refused, Vanessa Burks testified. She also testified that the weapon Arturo used to kill Finson had been “ground down and gotten rid of.”
After his preliminary court hearing on May 28, Arturo Lopez was ordered to stand trial on all charges.
His girlfriend, Christine Banghart, was arrested at her Lancaster home on October 16; and Antonio Lopez was arrested on a conspiracy warrant a week later. Charges against the pair were filed October 16.
After pleading no contest Wednesday to accessory after the fact and destroying evidence, both were ordered held without bail. Christine Banghart and Antonio Lopez are scheduled to be sentenced on December 4, according to court records.
Arturo Lopez remains jailed on more than $2 million bail as he awaits trial.
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