LANCASTER – The California Supreme Court refused on Wednesday, July 26, to review the case of a Lancaster man convicted of the shooting death of an all-terrain vehicle enthusiast in the desert nearly a decade ago.
Arturo Lopez is serving a 45-years-to-life state prison sentence for the Feb. 23, 2014, murder of Stephen Finson, 47, of Lancaster, who was found on the ground near his ATV after his wife reported him missing.
Lopez was first convicted in 2016 of Finson’s killing, but a state appellate court panel overturned his conviction in a 2018 ruling that found the trial court had erroneously instructed jurors on two theories of guilt — one which was legally correct and the other which was legally incorrect. He was subsequently convicted in 2021 of second-degree murder, with gun allegations found true. In a ruling just over two months ago, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that 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.
“The prosecution’s theory of the case was that Lopez purposefully shot Finson, a moving target, from at least 100 yards away. As defendant’s own expert acknowledged, such a shot would require proficiency with firearms,” Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss wrote on behalf of the panel in its May 17 ruling. “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.”
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