The actions of a Murrieta man who allegedly killed his girlfriend and burned her body in Temecula were cold and calculated, a prosecutor argued today.
Melvin Louis Shaw, 44, was charged with killing his girlfriend, Elisa Marie Lopez, 41, in her house, dumping her body behind a gym and setting it on fire. He could face 25 years to life if found guilty of first-degree murder.
The body was reported at 12:23 a.m. on July 21, 2007, burning by a dumpster behind in the 27000 block of Winchester Road, according to Murrieta police Lt. Dennis Vrooman.
She was killed only hours earlier between 8:56 p.m. and 9:53 p.m., and she likely died of strangulation or some other kind of suffocation, said prosecutor Brandon Smith.
It takes 30 seconds for a victim of asphyxiation to pass out. It takes another 30 seconds for the unconscious victim to die, he told a jury of 12 women and three men.
Thirty seconds was long enough for Shaw to think about what he was doing and make a cold, calculated decision, Smith said.
Alibi or drunken delusion
Shaw started working on his alibi less than an hour after Lopez died, Smith said. Lopez sent her last text message at 8:56 p.m. and Shaw called the victim’s cell phone at 9:53 p.m. “The only reason he would call that phone was to work on an alibi,” Smith said.
Shaw called the phone several times through the night and in the morning, then called several friends and sent text messages asking about her.
Shaw did that because he was in a drunken stupor and delusional, defense attorney Erin Kirkpatrick told the jury.
He called hoping his girlfriend would pick the phone up and it would all be some kind of dream, she said. “That’s truly what he believes, that’s what must be happening,” she said.
Long day of hard drinking
Though the couple was scheduled to go out on a date the evening of the killing, Shaw was at a lingerie show at a Temecula bar, witnesses testified Tuesday.
He started drinking at Texas Loosey’s, moved to Texas Lil’s in Old Town and drank some more, finishing the binge at Hard Hats Sports Grill, Todd Coones, a friend of Shaw, testified.
When he got back to Lopez’s house, where he was living, he was too drunk for their date, and she was angry. The two got in an argument, which escalated into a long, brutal fight, Smith said.
Drops of blood were found scattered all over the couple’s bathroom, the body was bruised and Shaw had defense wounds on his chest, arms and hands. “Every part of her body not burnt was bruised,” Smith said. “That woman went through hell.”
Shaw was acting in an alcohol-fueled fit of rage, with no premeditation, Kirkpatrick told the jury. “A rash, sudden quarrel, a fight, it’s a classic heat of passion,” she said.
Victim having second thoughts
After her drunken boyfriend got home, she started sending text messages to her former fiancée, who she was with for six years. One text read, “Why didn’t you fight harder?” and another, her final message, read, “Do you still miss me?”
Lopez was having second thoughts about her new boyfriend, who moved into her home only three weeks earlier. Shaw may have checked her phone and blew up, Kirkpatrick told the jury.
She argued the jury should find the defendant not guilty of first-degree murder, but rather guilty of voluntary manslaughter, because the killing was not premeditated.
The couple had no history of violence, Kirkpatrick told the jury. “There’s no evidence to show they were not happy before that day,” she said.
Shaw, on the other hand, has a long history of violence, Smith said, when the jury was out of the room. He was arrested for robbery in 1999. He was also arrested once for assaulting somebody in the bathroom of the Pechanga Resort and Casino with two friends, Smith said.
Investigator tipped off
Shaw might have gotten away with the killing if the running dryer hadn’t tipped an investigator off. The investigator wondered why somebody would be doing laundry very early in the morning when his girlfriend was missing. After looking around the house, he found evidence of a very recent and hasty cleaning, Smith said.
The jury started deliberations today, and were expected to last into next week.