Man linked to sniper shootings still wanted
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Police and prosecutors told a judge they still have hopes of apprehending Gilberto "Tito" Lopez, who played a role in the so-called sniper case.
"It is our hope that he will get caught. We have made extensive efforts to locate him. We ask that this case remain open so if he is found, it will show the West Virginia charges on him," Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris told Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom.
Authorities said Lopez was the owner of a quantity of rare pink methamphetamine stuffed into an engine block and stored in the garage of convicted sniper Shawn Lester. Witnesses have said Lester panicked when that engine was stolen and sought revenge to protect himself.
He was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of three Kanawha Valley residents but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in just one.
More than 100 witnesses were interviewed as the case was built against Lester, but Lopez has never been found. There is still a warrant for his arrest.
Bloom was told in a hearing Thursday that police continue to search for Lopez in the Charleston area and as far away as Texas and Mexico.
"He has been seen crossing the border in Texas and is trafficking cocaine," Charleston Chief of Detectives Steve Cooper said. "They know who he is, are watching for him and they are good at what they do."
Efforts include out-of-state travel and continued surveillance of some Charleston area homes where Lopez had connections. Charleston police are coordinating those efforts with several federal agencies.
"We've interviewed his two brothers to try to get information to help find him. One is incarcerated in Ohio, and one is a citizen in Indiana," Cooper said.
Bloom commended prosecutors and police for their efforts.
He was less kind to prosecutors in several other cases.
He dismissed further judicial action against Rebecca Niven after prosecutors said they decided not to extradite her to Kanawha County when she stopped showing up at the Day Report Center. They believe she may be in Florida.
Niven was charged with two counts of entering without breaking in 2008.
In another case, Bloom expressed frustration when prosecutors failed to extradite Harry Clarke, who failed to appear on a marijuana possession charge.
Prosecutors said those decisions are made after considering each case, the charges and the possible whereabouts of a defendant. Sometimes, they said, criminals change their names and other identification information numerous times to evade capture.
It's more common to extradite criminals from surrounding states than from farther away, they said, and the budget for such expenses is not unlimited.
Bloom said that decision tells criminals that they can avoid their sentences and penalties.
"Then it's a terrible, horrible message that if it's not expedient, we will not pursue the case," Bloom said.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4832.