Utah medical examiner can’t say who fired fatal shot inside truck

Trial • The shot could have been a suicide or a homicide, he says.

| Courtesy Salt Lake County Komasquin Lopez was charged Thursday with murder for shooting his wife, Shannon Lopez, Dec. 27.

When Shannon Lopez was killed nearly two years ago, someone pushed a gun hard against her left ear and pulled the trigger, a Utah medical examiner testified on Thursday.

But Utah Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey told a jury Thursday that he was not able to determine whether Lopez's Dec. 27, 2013, death was a suicide or a homicide.

"I could not say whether this was an injury caused by another person or caused by the decedent herself," he testified.

Prosecutors have accused the woman's husband, 45-year-old Komasquin Lopez, of firing the fatal shot while he was driving his truck — arguing that he became enraged after finding out his wife was high on methamphetamine. They have charged the man with first-degree felony murder.

But Komasquin Lopez's defense attorney told a Salt Lake City jury that the woman shot herself that day as her husband drove near State Street and 7800 South in Midvale.

A trial for the husband began Tuesday, and jurors are expected to begin deliberations Friday.

On Thursday, Grey told the jurors that if 32-year-old Shannon Lopez did kill herself, the location of the wound was "a little funny."

"An ear shot is not very common," he said. "People, when they shoot themselves in the head, they'll usually put it in the temple, in the forehead, in the mouth, above the chin. Shooting in the ear? It's a little weird."

Grey said it would also be "atypical" for a right-handed person, like Shannon Lopez, to shoot the left side of her head. He said that only happens about 15 percent of the time in cases that he has reviewed.

The medical examiner also told jurors that Shannon Lopez had a potentially fatal amount of meth in her system when she died.

Psychiatrist Richard Ries, who testified for the defense, said Thursday that this high level of meth could have made Shannon Lopez do something drastic that she normally would not do.

"Anybody who has got heavy methamphetamine intoxication, a big-time argument and access to a gun, I don't think there's any way to predict what's going to happen," he said. "Probably other than to say it's going to be bad. It's like putting a nuclear bomb in your brain. You just can't predict what someone is going to do."

During opening statements earlier this week, Deputy Salt Lake District Attorney Joseph Hill told jurors the couple was fighting because Shannon Lopez had used meth and had said in a text message that she planned to leave her husband. The prosecutor showed jurors expletive-laden texts that the husband sent his wife to show their volatile relationship.

"The evidence in this case is not going to show you that Shannon committed suicide," Hill said. "The evidence will show you that the defendant shot Shannon in a fit of rage."

Defense attorney Nick Falcone accused prosecutors of using the couple's love of guns and Komasquin Lopez's profane texts to cast the man in a bad light. He told the jury to focus on the physical evidence as they decide whether his client is guilty.

"I want you as a jury to focus on the forensics," he said. "All the forensics say is 'We have no idea.' "

Just after the gun was fired inside Lopez's pickup truck, his vehicle crashed into another.

Unified Police Detective Christine Petty-Brown testified on Thursday that Komasquin Lopez told a number of conflicting stories about the shooting. He gave multiple accounts of where they were traveling when the shot was fired, and said that he only heard glass breaking before the accident — though police later found no broken glass. He also told conflicting accounts of how his wife's body was positioned after the car accident, Petty-Brown said.


Twitter: @jm_miller