Crime

Nipomo man pleads not guilty in Santa Maria killing; brother still on the run

Franklin Edgar Lopez, 27, right, of Nipomo pleaded not guilt to murder Thursday in connection with a killing Saturday in Santa Maria. His brother, Rafael Santiago Lopez, 23, left, is wanted in connection with that case and three other killings.
Franklin Edgar Lopez, 27, right, of Nipomo pleaded not guilt to murder Thursday in connection with a killing Saturday in Santa Maria. His brother, Rafael Santiago Lopez, 23, left, is wanted in connection with that case and three other killings.

A Nipomo man pleaded not guilty to murder Thursday in Santa Maria Superior Court, and his bail remains at $2 million.

Franklin Edgar Lopez, 27, appeared before Judge Patricia Kelly for his arraignment hearing.

Lopez, who was represented by attorney Brian Carroll, has been charged with one count of murder in connection with the stabbing and shooting of Cruz Alberto Chavez Sandoval, 49, of Santa Maria early Saturday near Sunrise Drive and Bradley Road.

Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Schoenberg is leading the prosecution team.

The judge ordered Lopez to return Monday for a preliminary hearing setting in Judge James Voysey’s courtroom, and tentatively set the preliminary hearing for Sept. 17 since the defendant did not waive time for a speedy trial.

The defendant’s 23-year-old brother, Rafael Santiago Lopez, remains on the run after being connected to Saturday’s killing and three other homicides dating back to 2015 in Santa Maria.

At approximately 1 a.m. Saturday, officers were dispatched to the area near Sunrise Drive and Bradley Road, where they found Sandoval with multiple injuries after being shot and stabbed.

During the investigation, detectives tied the current homicide to a double shooting on Dec. 26, 2015, near East Jewel and North Vine streets in north Santa Maria.

Ramiro Ceja Gonzalez, 42, and Manuel Manzano Mata, 26, were both shot multiple times and died as a result of their injuries.

Months later, police investigated a shooting on the 400 block of North Oakley Avenue, where Bernardino De Jesus, 23, died as a result of his injuries. His younger brother was critically injured.

They were shot after a vehicle drove by their Fourth of July celebration, where the brothers were lighting fireworks.

Rafael Santiago Lopez is wanted in connection all four killings, Santa Maria police said.

The Police Department is asking that anyone with information on these homicides or the whereabouts of Rafael Lopez contact the Detective Bureau at 805-928-3781, ext. 2278 or the SMPD Tip Line at 805-928-3781, ext. 2677.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
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