Who shot Shannon Lopez? Her husband was convicted of her murder. But he’s out now and says he didn’t do it.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Komasquin Lopez was convicted of shooting and killing his wife while they were in his truck in 2013. The Utah Supreme Court reversed his conviction earlier this year, finding the trial judge erred in letting in certain evidence at trial. Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

Ogden • Komasquin Lopez isn’t a religious person.

But as he sat behind prison walls for years, he prayed every day that he’d be released and that the court system would recognize his innocence.

He says he never picked up a gun as he drove his truck along a Midvale road in December 2013. He didn’t press it to his wife’s head — and he didn’t fire the single bullet that killed Shannon Lopez.

But police and prosecutors believed he did. And a 3rd District jury agreed in 2015, finding Komasquin Lopez guilty of first-degree felony murder.

Lopez was sentenced to prison. His first parole hearing was set in 2039, so far in the future that it was practically a life sentence for the now-48-year-old man who previously worked as a corrections officer in Utah and Florida. Yet he was confident that this ordeal would end.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said in a recent interview. “I knew this was going to be overturned.”

And it was — the Utah Supreme Court in February reversed his conviction, finding there were problems with an expert and some of the evidence used at his trial.

After more than four years behind bars, Lopez is now a free man, and he wants to share his story. Starting over as he still mourns his wife’s death — and after being accused of a crime so heinous — hasn’t been easy.

“I lost everything,” he said. “My house, my furniture. All the memories of my wife. Just long gone.”

Accused and convicted

There are some facts that are undisputed: A gun went off Dec. 27, 2013, inside Lopez’s Dodge pickup truck as he made a left turn near State Street and 7800 South. The firearm had been pressed against Shannon’s skin when it was fired, and the fatal shot hit the 32-year-old directly above her left ear canal. After the shot was fired, Lopez crashed his truck into another car.

But after the crash, two versions of what happened emerged.

The prosecutors’ version: With one hand turning the steering wheel and the other holding the gun to his wife’s head, Lopez fired the fatal shot after finding out his wife was high on methamphetamine. The couple had been fighting over her drug use, and the husband killed her in a fit of rage. She was right-handed, they said, so it was unlikely she fired the weapon into the left side of her head. It didn’t make sense for her to kill herself.

Lopez’s version: Yes, he had been upset over his wife’s drug use. He called Shannon a “meth whore.” He said he was going to leave her. Then he turned left and... BAM. It sounded like a broken window — but it wasn’t. He turned his head, and there was blood everywhere. He never saw the gun.

Today, Lopez believes his wife held the gun to her head as an empty threat to kill herself, a way to escalate their argument when he told her he was going to leave her. He believes she accidentally pulled the trigger as he accelerated to make the turn. Though she was right-handed, her husband said, she could shoot with her left hand.

“The only thing I blame myself for was yelling at her,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “If I would have kept quiet, we were two blocks from the house. I could have got out and gone for a walk.”

Lopez’s trial lasted four days in September 2015. Jurors heard testimony from a blood spatter expert and medical examiner — both could not determine who shot Shannon — as well as an expert who testified that it was unlikely that she committed suicide. They heard about two times when Lopez allegedly pointed a gun at a family member or loved one in the past, and heard the defendant proclaim his innocence.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty.

But, in February, the Utah Supreme Court reversed the verdict, finding the expert witness who testified about how likely it was that Shannon killed herself should not have been allowed on the stand because prosecutors did not show his methods were reliable. The high court also found 3rd District Judge Paul Parker abused his discretion when allowing the jury to hear testimony of previous gun-pointing incidents because those events were not similar enough to the shooting that led to Shannon’s death. Presenting that evidence was unfair to Lopez, the high court found.

A plea deal

Last month, prosecutors offered Lopez a deal: If he pleaded no contest to a third-degree felony, criminal homicide by assault, he could be released and the case would be closed.

The no-contest plea meant he didn’t have to admit to killing his wife, but Lopez still felt uneasy. He didn’t want to plead to something he didn’t do — but he worried about the risk of going to trial again in front of the same judge. What if Parker wasn’t impartial?

“I took the stupid plea,” he said.

Lopez’s lawyer, Nick Falcone, believes his client likely would have received a fair trial if he had chosen to try again. And the public defender said he thought the defense team could have won if given another shot — but the stakes were so high.

“It’s unfortunate,” Falcone said. “I deal with this all the time, clients that I feel are innocent of crimes, they are in a position where they have to weigh their life or their freedom.”

Falcone said he felt the resolution to Lopez’s case was fair. But he said a criminal justice system that encourages innocent defendants to avoid trials by cutting a deal is not. It’s happening “all the time” in Utah courts, he said.

“We’ll try your case and you can maintain your innocence,” he said. “However, if you lose, you will spend most of your life in the Utah State Prison.”

Blake Nakamura, chief deputy of the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office, said the plea deal was offered to Lopez after the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The ruling curtailed some of the evidence prosecutors could have used in another trial, he said.

“The scale tipped in favor of trying to resolve the case,” Nakamura said.

Also, given the amount time Lopez had already served behind bars, the prosecutor said his office felt it was a “reasonable resolution.”

And when Lopez took the deal, Parker sentenced him to time served.

After 1,607 days — nearly 4½ years — behind bars, he was a free man.

Starting over

Today, Lopez lives in an Ogden motel and works with cement at a stone supplier. He tires of telling the same story over and over again, explaining how he was convicted of something he didn’t do.

He keeps a tattered copy of a blood spatter report — one put together by the prosecutors’ expert, but which wasn’t allowed to be presented to the jury. He showed it first to fellow prisoners and jail guards, then to his future employer. Sometimes he shows it to other motel patrons who walk past his room and ask if he wants to buy drugs.

“I tell them, ‘I don’t touch that,’” he said. “My wife died because of that, and I got blamed for it.”

He usually skips past the pages that are filled with gruesome black-and-white photos of his wife’s body. Instead, he focuses on pages he says show he didn’t hold the gun. On one, the blood spatter expert noted that Shannon had blood on her left hand consistent with a “high force event.” Lopez highlighted the sentence in bright green marker and scribbled in the margin: “This shows when gun went off, her hand was holding gun!” Another highlighted passage notes that the staining on his jacket indicated his right hand was on the steering wheel when the shot was fired.

His life is entirely different than it was just a few years ago, when he worked at a pharmaceutical company and lived with his wife in their Midvale home.

He has few possessions that remind him of Shannon, just a jacket of hers he happened to be wearing when police arrested him two weeks after her death. He keeps a worn wedding ring in his wallet as a reminder of her — his fingers swell from working with cement, and he can’t wear it on his left hand like he wants to.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Komasquin Lopez wears his wedding ring. Lopez was convicted of shooting and killing his wife while they were in his truck in 2013. The Utah Supreme Court reversed his conviction earlier this year, finding the trial judge erred in letting in certain evidence at trial. Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

“It all destroyed me,” he said. “Even to this day, I sit in this room and cry and look at her picture.”

Lopez said he’d like to pursue a civil lawsuit against the police or prosecutors in the future, but, for now, he said he wants to make the public aware of his case and what happened to him.

“If they did it to me,” he said, “they could do it to anybody.”