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Family Fears 2 Men Cleared in Attack on Home : Justice: A judge dismissed the attempted murder accusations in the Wilmington case after the prosecution refused to file lesser assault charges.

April 22, 1990|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The two men who had been accused of terrorizing her family are out of jail, and Becky Isaacs is afraid.

The men, who allegedly shot at and tried to run over two of her sons, were freed on Thursday, and the Wilmington housewife and mother of four would like to know why.

Why did Long Beach Superior Court Judge G. William Dunn dismiss attempted murder charges against defendants Joseph Lopez and Evaristo Nunez? Why didn't he let a jury decide the case? How could the system free the reputed gang members, when even one of their defense attorneys said they were guilty of a crime?

Deputy Dist. Atty. Carrie Masarik said the answers, and the blame, rest solely with Dunn, who last Thursday dismissed the charges against the half-brothers, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to convict them of attempted murder. Masarik called the ruling "outrageous."

Isaacs, 38, said on Friday that she is worried the two men will return to their hometown of Wilmington.

"I am scared for everyone's life in this family," said Isaacs, crying softly. "It only takes a second for a bullet to come out. And if it hits one of these children, there is no second chance."

Dunn did not return phone calls seeking comment.

But defense attorney Barney Goldstein, who represented Lopez, said the blame for setting Lopez and Nunez free rests not with the judge, but with the prosecutor's office, because it declined to amend the complaint to charge assault, which very well might have led to a conviction.

The judge told prosecutors "you have proven assault with a deadly weapon. File it," Goldstein said Friday. "They would have been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. There is no question about that."

Lopez and Nunez "are on the streets because of the district attorney's office," Goldstein said.

Nunez's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

The case began last summer.

Lopez, 24, and Nunez, 19, had once lived next door to the Isaacs family, in a neighborhood of modest homes in West Wilmington.

Although Lopez and Nunez had moved out of their home on Ravenna Avenue, they still lived in the community. When a teen-age friend of theirs was accused of a hit-and-run accident last July, the rumor on the street was that Becky Isaacs' son, Damon, then 15, had ratted on the boy.

Becky Isaacs said that her son never told police anything about the hit-and-run and that his silence is confirmed in police reports.

Prosecutor Masarik described the subsequent events this way:

On Sept. 10, Lopez, Nunez and the youth accused in the hit-and-run accident drove up and down Ravenna Avenue shouting threats at Damon Isaacs and his family. On about the fourth pass by the Isaacs home, Lopez drove his car onto the family's lawn, barely missing another son, 14-year-old Darin, who was holding his infant nephew.

Mrs. Isaacs said she testified that she screamed at Lopez that he had almost killed her son and grandson and that he responded: "I meant to. I meant to kill the whole family."

Nunez then got out of the car and aimed a two-shot derringer pistol at Damon Isaacs and pulled the trigger, Masarik said, but the shot went astray and hit Nunez's friend.

The wounded teen-ager then threw a bicycle and a chair through the front window of the Isaacs home, and Lopez repeatedly said he would "kill the whole family," Masarik said. Nunez then fired another shot into the house and, as police arrived, turned and tried to fire a shot at a police sergeant, but his gun was empty, Masarik said.

Lopez and Nunez had been held in county jail since their arrest that day.

Lopez was charged with two counts of attempted murder for allegedly aiming his car at Darin Isaacs and the infant. Nunez was charged with one count of attempted murder for the shot he allegedly fired at Damon Isaacs.

After the prosecution had completed its case Wednesday afternoon, Judge Dunn said neither man could be convicted of attempted murder because Masarik had not proven that they had an intent to kill.

Masarik disagreed. She argued that Lopez's reported threats against the family made his intent obvious and that Nunez's intent could be inferred when he aimed the pistol at Damon. The prosecutor said later that Dunn should not "supplant the role of the jury."

But Dunn held firm and said that he would grant the defense a "directed verdict," a standard, although uncommon, judicial action dismissing charges before the defense has presented its case. Dunn told the prosecutor he would let the case go to the jury if she amended the complaint to charge the half-brothers with assault with a deadly weapon.

According to Goldstein, each assault charge carries a maximum term of up to five years in prison, so that Nunez could have faced five years and Lopez 10. Attempted second-degree murder could have resulted in a maximum sentence of 10 years for Nunez and more than 12 years for Lopez.

Masarik said she and her superiors discussed the case Wednesday and decided not to pursue the assault charges because they believed Dunn would opt for much lighter sentences, perhaps even placing the pair on probation with little more than the seven months they have already served in jail.

"These other charges would not really do justice to what this family suffered," Masarik said. "The D.A.'s office felt that, if the judge was going to make this kind of decision . . . then it is his responsibility."

Masarik conceded that an assault conviction could have led to at least some jail time for the two defendants. She called the decision not to amend the charges "very difficult. . . . It comes off that we were trying to prove a point, but it was more complicated than that."

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