WEST CHESTER – Carlos Lopez stood a few feet away from the man who admitted killing his brother during a Phoenixville robbery and told President Judge James P. MacElree II about the last time the siblings spoke to one another.
“My brother that night was planning to send money to my family the next day,” Lopez said of Selvin Memerto Lopez-Maurico, a 23-year-old Guatemalan native who worked at a Wendy’s restaurant in Royersford and was part of a growing Latino community in Phoenixville at the time of his death.
“I talked to him and he said he had another job early in the morning,” Lopez recalled, as Saleem I. Williams, the Delaware County man who pleaded guilty to firing the shot that killed Lopez-Maurico, sat listening. “But he had no ride.
“I told him I would take him in the morning,” Lopez said, speaking with the aid of an interpreter. The phone call ended with the pair planning to see one another later that day. It was after midnight on Sept. 14, 2011.
The next thing Lopez remembered is getting a telephone call saying that Lopez-Maurico had been shot. He ran to the scene, and saw his brother, the youngest in the family, lying on the ground.
“It was a moment that changed my life,” Lopez told MacElree during the 30-minute hearing on Williams’ guilty plea, which came as a jury was waiting to be chosen for his trial. “My father, my brothers and sisters, have been destroyed, because he took the life of our youngest brother. I pray to you, who has the authority, to judge the delinquents who killed my brother.”
As part of a plea agreement arrived at over the weekend by the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Peter Hobart, and Williams’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Loreen Kemps, Williams agreed to plead guilty to charges of third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, illegal possession of a firearm, and possession of instruments of a crime for the fatal attack on Lopez-Marico.
Williams, 21, of Sharon Hill, also pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit attempted escape and possession of marijuana. The escape charges stemmed from a plot he and another inmate at Chester County Prison had hatched with their respective girlfriends to break out of the facility at gunpoint, but which was broken up when corrections officers and county detectives uncovered it.
He was sentenced to a total of 40-to-80 years in state prison, including 20-to-40 years for the murder, 10-to-20 years or the robbery, and 3½ to seven years for the attempted escape.
Williams, beyond answering MacElree’s questions about the rights he was giving up by entering the guilty plea in the case with short, sharp one-word answers, said very little during the hearing, declining to address the court about the charges against him.
“He feels anything he would have to say would not make it any better,” Kemps told the judge.
Asked by MacElree why he had chosen to plead guilty to murder and robbery charges, rather than proceed to trial, Williams said, “Because it was the right thing to do.”
Had Williams been convicted at trial on the first or second-degree murder charges he faced, he would have been automatically sentenced to a mandatory life term in prison without parole, plus any additional time for the robbery and firearms charges.
Because Williams had given police a statement acknowledging that he had the gun in his possession that was used to shoot Lopez-Maurico, and that it had “gone off” during a struggle with the victim, it was likely that he would have been found guilty of second-degree murder, so-called “felony murder,” which involves a homicide committed in he course of a felony, such as robbery.
Kemps said she advised Williams that any sentencing offer that the prosecution made that was less than that life term in prison would be a good resolution of the case for him. Because he had been incarcerated since his arrest in September 2011, he will be eligible for parole when he turns 60.
Hobart told MacElree that he had discussed the plea offer with his office, as well as the Phoenixville police who investigated the case and members of Lopez-Maurico’s family. They agreed to let the offer go forward, he said.
Lopez-Maurico was shot once in the chest at about 12:45 a.m. Sept. 14, 2011 in the 100 block of Prospect Avenue on the north side of Phoenixville. An officer arriving at the scene was able to speak to Lopez-Maurico as he lay in the street, but he could not answer back. Hobart said he died in an ambulance on the way to Phoenixville Hospital.
Williams and another man, Stephen Reidler of Montgomery County, were arrested shortly after the killing. A third participant, then-18-year-old Monique Robinson, was not arrested until about four months later, when she turned herself into police with the help of her attorney, Robert Donation of West Chester.
Reidler pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and robbery in December and was sentenced to 20-to-40 years in state prison. Robinson is scheduled to go to trial before MacElree on April 1. Donation, who will represent her at the trial, attended Williams’ sentencing Monday.
According to a scenario laid out by Hobart, Williams and Robinson went to an apartment in the Phoenixville area in the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2011, where Robinson retrieved a semi-automatic pistol. The two went to another apartment in the borough, and smoked marijuana for several hours.
Later, Robinson gave Williams the gun, as they tried to contact a drug dealer known as “D,” who the three made vague plans to rob. When they could not contact him, Hobart said, Robinson suggested they “go on a mission” to rob someone.
They encountered Lopez-Maurico on his way home with his uncle sometime later. Williams first assaulted him, beating him in the face with his fists, police said. Reidler kept Lopez-Maurico’s uncle from calling police, while Robinson snatched a backpack that Lopez-Maurico was carrying. Though stunned from the assault, Lopez-Maurico was able to chase after Robinson and caught up with her. But Williams stepped in and during the struggle over the backpack fired the shot that struck Lopez-Maurico.
The three went back to the apartment where they had been partying, and divided up what was in the backpack – some Wendy’s takeout food, restaurant uniform items, and Lopez-Maurico’s paycheck, which he had planned to use to send money back to his family in Guatemala.
Lopez, the victim’s brother, said the family has had a hard time getting over his death and still mourns him. “He helped support our family, and now my brother is not with us at all. All we have left is memories and sadness,” he said.
Story from www.dailylocal.com.