SALT LAKE CITY — A state appeals court recently affirmed the conviction of a former Tremonton man convicted in 2018 of kidnapping and beating an Ogden man the year prior.
In an opinion released last week, the Utah Court of Appeals struck down the appeal of Israel Lopez-Gonzalez, 48, whom a jury found guilty of multiple charges.
Lopez-Gonzalez was convicted of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; and aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury, a second-degree felony.
According to the court’s opinion, Lopez-Gonzalez had helped a woman bail her husband out of jail in Brigham City when the three and another person decided to drive to Ogden to buy methamphetamine. They later met up with the victim, who took money from Lopez-Gonzalez and went to go buy the meth.
The victim then pocketed some of the money given to him by Lopez-Gonzalez, and the victim told him that some of the money was “missing,” according to the opinion.
In response Lopez-Gonzalez became angry and loaded people into a car before telling the driver to go to Tremonton. While on the road, Lopez-Gonzalez reportedly pulled out a handgun and began beating the victim with the gun and threatening to shoot him. One witness in the car reported seeing that the victim was “bleeding out of his eye.”
As the group neared Tremonton, Lopez-Gonzalez had the driver stop on a dirt road before he forced the victim out of the car.
While repeatedly asking where the missing money was, Lopez-Gonzalez reportedly forced the victim to take off his pants, shoes and socks. The victim later gave the missing money, which he had put in his underwear, to Lopez-Gonzalez. In response, Lopez-Gonzalez beat the victim more, then shot one round into the ground a few feet away from the victim. He continued to beat the man until he passed out.
The victim later awoke covered in blood with his phone, pants and shoes gone. He walked to a hospital, where he required stitches to his face and staples in the back of his head. The victim also had suffered broken bones in his face.
After his arrest, Lopez-Gonzalez reportedly told police that he hit the victim several times in the face because he “wanted to teach (the victim) a lesson.” Though he at first denied firing the shot, he later admitted to doing so because he was angry.
During the trial, Lopez-Gonzalez testified in his own defense. Though he began his testimony with a Spanish interpreter, he later asked if it would be easier for the jury if he spoke in English, his second language. His trial counsel told him it would be easier for the jury if he spoke in English, but the decision was up to him. Lopez-Gonzalez chose to speak in English for the remainder of his testimony.
He later testified that he did, in fact, hit the victim with the gun, took his clothes and fired the gun into the ground. However, he said he did so because the victim was trying to get up and cause the driver to crash the car, a fact that he “insisted” that he told police at the time. He testified that he beat the man in self-defense and that he feared for his life. The detective who interviewed Lopez-Gonzalez later told the court that he was not told this during the interviews.
Lopez-Gonzalez was found guilty of all three charges and sentenced to a term of 16 years to life in a state prison.
In his appeal, Lopez-Gonzalez argued that his trial counsel was ineffective under the cumulative error doctrine, which according to case law can be proven “only if the cumulative effect of the several errors undermines (the court’s) confidence that a fair trial was had.”
Lopez-Gonzalez said his attorney should have raised issue with the use of the Spanish interpreter. Other arguments included how his attorney should have raised the issue of self-defense, and how his attorney should have attacked the credibility of witnesses.
The appeals court combed through each issue raised by Lopez-Gonzalez, striking down each argument. In total the court found the cumulative error doctrine was not met, at one point writing, “The evidence of Lopez-Gonzalez’s guilt was overwhelming.”
The court concluded that Lopez-Gonzalez did not establish any of the claims made in his appeal, and therefore affirmed his conviction.
As of Friday evening, Lopez-Gonzalez was in the custody of the Utah State Prison. His next parole hearing is tentatively set for August 2030.