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Jury Finds Santa Monica Man Not Guilty in Officer Shooting

By Lookout Staff

January 23 -- A Santa Monica man charged with murder for allegedly shooting at two local undercover police officers a year ago, hitting one, was found not guilty Tuesday afternoon.

After three days of deliberations, a jury at LAX Superior Court cleared 20-year-old German Michael Espindola of two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm and one count of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.

It was not Espindola, but his cousin, Isaac Lopez, who was the gunman, said defense attorney David Diamond. Witnesses testified that Espindola was in his Pico Neighborhood apartment when the shooting took place.

“I stated from the beginning that Michael is innocent," Diamond said after the verdict. "The many officers in this case gave inconsistent testimony.

“The evidence has clearly shown who the shooter is, so I am offering my assistance in the prosecution of Mr. Isaac Lopez. The victims in this case were the SMPD officers as well as Michael Espindola who sat in jail for one year awaiting his day in court.”

Espindola was accused of firing at the two undercover officers who were following a van in which he was allegedly a passenger on February 2 of last year. A bullet hit the wrist of Officer Walter Ramirez, who was treated and released. His partner was not injured.

During the trial, Espindola’s mother, Josephine Lopez, testified that her son was home when the shooting took place at around 5 a.m. outside the apartment they share near 17th Street and Pico Boulevard.

Espindola’s stepfather was arrested in the driver’s seat of the van used in the incident, police said. Less than two hours later, a SWAT team negotiated the surrender of Espindola and his cousin, who were at the apartment.

The defense claimed that Espindola was downloading music and videos on his computer when the shooting took place and that it was his cousin, who had been staying at the apartment, who was responsible for the crime.

It was Espindola’s cousin, Issac Lopez, who ran into the apartment shortly after the shots were fired, the defense said.

Neither Espindola’s prints nor DNA was found on the gun police recovered above the stove and linked to the shooting, Diamond said. Instead, the DNA belonged to his cousin.

"Our case opened with a DNA expert ruling out my client as a contributor to the DNA found on the grip and trigger of the gun," Diamond said.

"Our computer expert followed with a finding that my client was on the computer listening to music at the time when the officer purported to see him at a grocery store and then again at the time when the shooting took place,” he said.

Espindola -- who was held on $2.4 million bail and faced life in prison if convicted -- was the wrong man, Diamond told the jury, adding that the suspect was a former gang member who was working and going to school.

Prosecutors said one of the police officers identified Espindola as the shooter and another officer had seen him driving in the van used in the shooting just minutes before the incident.

An expert witness for the prosecution testified that it was rare to find fingerprints on a weapon.

The incident began shortly before dawn when an officer saw a van suspiciously parked partway on the sidewalk at the Ralph’s Supermarket on Olympic and Cloverfield boulevards, police said.

The officer requested an undercover unit, and Ramirez and his partner, who were wearing plainclothes and driving an unmarked car, responded, according to police.

When they stopped to conduct a robbery surveillance of the van, the suspects drove away and the officers followed them down Pico Boulevard, police said.

They lost the van briefly, but found it again in a driveway on 17th street. As the officers drove up, one of them saw the shooter get out of the passenger side holding a gun.

The gunman fired three shots. One round went through the officers' windshield. One hit Ramirez in the right wrist. The third bullet went through the right rear passenger window, police said.






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