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Murder scheme takes a twist

Man who allegedly hires a killer is himself nearly killed when the target and others turn on him, authorities say. Four people are in custody.

November 10, 2007|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Francisco Lopez had been stabbed seven times, severely beaten and strangled before he was tossed down a remote mountainside. It took him two days to crawl back up, where he was discovered by hikers and rushed to a Santa Barbara hospital.

But, in a startling reversal sketched out Friday by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, Lopez, 23, has been arrested on suspicion of masterminding an alleged murder-for-hire plot that ended up nearly killing him.

Sheriff's deputies took him into custody when he was released from Cottage Hospital on Oct. 30 -- a week after the alleged murder plan apparently backfired.

Three people, including a 15-year-old boy who later wrecked a stolen car in a high-speed chase, have been arrested for allegedly attacking Lopez, and a fourth is being sought, officials said.

But the trouble, they said, started with Lopez.

To keep 22-year-old Victor Garcia away from Lopez's girlfriend, Lopez allegedly recruited Jose Loza, 28, to kill Garcia, according to a sheriff's spokesman. However, the plan soured when Loza, Garcia, the 15-year-old and 28-year-old Victor Amezcua decided to turn the tables on Lopez. All were "connected to the same drug circles" in Lompoc, where they live, a Sheriff's Department spokesman said.

On the night of Oct. 23, Garcia agreed to be tied up and blindfolded. When he was driven to the rugged backcountry spot where he was to be murdered, he and the others turned on Lopez, who had accompanied them to view the slaying, according to officials.

The scheme became even more twisted hours later. High on methamphetamine, the 15-year-old became convinced that he would be the next victim. In a "paranoid rage," he stabbed Garcia as well as Lopez's girlfriend, whom he and Garcia allegedly had planned to kill because she might have implicated them in the crime, officials said. Neither Garcia nor the girlfriend were seriously hurt.

After attacking the two in a Carpinteria parking lot, the teenager broke into a home, stole a car, and, chased by police, crashed in a flaming wreck on Highway 101 at Gaviota.

Garcia, Lopez, Loza and the 15-year-old all have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and criminal conspiracy. The teenager, also charged with auto theft, is in Juvenile Hall. Lopez was booked on suspicion of solicitation of murder. Amezcua is being sought.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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