Richelle Ann Best, 21, died of strangulation, but it was up to a jury to decide whether her boyfriend, Corey Anthony Lopez, killed her by accident or out of malice.
The jury decided it was intentional, and handed Lopez, 23, a guilty verdict for first-degree murder on June 26, after eight hours of deliberation.
The jury also decided that there was enough evidence to declare Lopez guilty of attempted first-degree murder of another girlfriend during a 2008 incident.
Friends and family of Best broke into applause with the announcement. Lopez showed little emotion until he stood and turned towards his friends and family as sheriff’s deputies handcuffed him.
Judge Christie Phillips had instructed the jury members that they could find Lopez guilty of a lesser crime in both cases, such as second-degree murder or manslaughter. To meet the qualifications for first-degree murder, Judge Phillips told the jury, Lopez must have committed the murder “after deliberation, and with intent.”
On July 24 of last year, Lopez called police from his apartment at 1017 Teller St. in Lakewood to report that Best was unresponsive.
Police arrived and found Best dead at the scene. The autopsy revealed 40 separate injuries on Best’s body, particularly blunt-force trauma to the neck area, with damage to the muscle, cartilage, vocal cords and esophagus.
In police interviews, and later through his defense attorneys, Lopez maintained that he inadvertently strangled Best during sex, while the couple was intoxicated.
During closing arguments, the prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office described Lopez as a violent and abusive boyfriend, losing control over Best.
Deputy District Attorney Megan Trear reminded jurors of the testimony of the autopsy experts regarding strangulation.
“Three to six seconds for unconsciousness. For death, a minimum of three minutes, constant pressure” Trear said, while putting a 3-minute countdown on the video screen. “Do you have time to realize that your hands around someone’s neck is killing them?”
Defense attorney Julie Rammer argued that Lopez’s statements and actions were much more consistent with a tragic accident than with murder. She mentioned the audio of Lopez’s 911 call to authorities and his cooperation with Lakewood police investigators.
“This is not someone who wants to hide something,” Rammer said.
Sentencing for Lopez is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 16. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without chance of parole.