Defense suggests mental issues in El Jebel double-homicide
EAGLE — A public defender for an El Jebel man accused of gunning down his aunt and uncle suggested Monday that the suspect had psychological issues that precipitated the double homicide.
During a preliminary hearing in Eagle County District Court, defense attorney Thea Reiff, while cross-examining the lead investigator in the case, said that a recorded interrogation of suspect Williams Anderson Amaya showed that he had been plagued by mental problems. That was indicative when Amaya told Eagle County Lt. Daniel Loya, during an interrogation on the day of his July 13 arrest, that he was not related to the victims, Mayra and Eliseo Lopez.
Instead, Amaya insisted that his relatives were John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, Loya said. Amaya also said he was not born a Latino but was reincarnated as one, and he had an “Uncle Angel” who had joined the Special Forces to protect him. Amaya also told the investigator that the Lopezes were “witches,” as were their two children.
Additionally, Loya said he discovered paperwork, in Amaya’s vehicle, showing that he had been admitted into a psychological facility.
Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan argued that the defense’s claims had no bearing on the preliminary hearing, in which the prosecution’s task was to show enough probable cause to bind over the case for trial. Even so, Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman allowed the defense to bring up the mental issues while cross-examining Loya.
Dunkelman also ruled there was enough evidence to hold over Amaya, 33, on two charges of first-degree murder and two counts of criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, along with lesser charges.
Amaya has been held in the Eagle County Jail without bond since his arrest. No bond has been set because he is considered a flight risk.
An Aspen High School graduate, Amaya sat silently throughout the near four-hour hearing, wearing orange prison garb and handcuffed at the ankles. He wore headphones to listen to a Spanish interpreter relay the testimony.
On the opposite side of the courtroom sat approximately one dozen of the Lopez couple’s friends and relatives. Some wept as the prosecution’s two witnesses, Loya and Eagle County Patrol Deputy David Edstron, recounted the night in which they discovered the Lopezes dead on the den floor of their Sopris Village home in El Jebel.
Prosecutor Kirwan replayed the events that led to the double-homicide, alleging that Amaya began his day by visiting Starbucks in El Jebel, having his Honda Civic’s oil changed at Big O Tires in Basalt, driving to Grand Junction to make a “conscious decision” to buy a .380-caliber handgun and two boxes of American Eagle full-metal jacket ammunition from a Cabela’s sporting-goods store, and dining at Olive Garden before returning to his aunt and uncle’s home, where he also resided.
Kirwan relied chiefly on the testimony of Loya, who said Amaya confessed to killing his aunt and uncle 28 minutes into his near hour-long interview.
“He stated that they were discussing and commenting about his family,” said Loya, who said he was notified at 11:18 on the night in question of a possible shooting.
Amaya initially denied killing the couple, blaming it on other relatives whose motive was to collect insurance money, Loya said. Previously, one of the Lopezes’ sons said his parents had been arguing with Amaya about a dog, but Loya said that didn’t appear to be the case.
“I asked him who he shot first,” Loya said. “He said he didn’t know. He said it was over an argument with the family about bills, and said it might have something to do with the death of his uncle in El Salvador.” Loya said he would later learn that the uncle died in the U.S. from a heart attack.
Loya also said “there was nothing that would show or indicate” the shooting was impulsive.
Each victim was shot four times, Loya said.
“He said he stood over them directly and shot them to ensure their death,” Loya said.
Investigators also found four rounds of ammo in the beds of the Lopez’s two sons.
“I asked if he intended to shoot the brothers,” Loya said. “He said he did. I asked him why, and he said they were witches, too.”
At the time of the shootings, one of the sons was in the bathroom brushing his teeth while the other one was in his bedroom getting dressed.
But the boys, ages 13 and 14, fled the home — stepping over their deceased parents, who lied on the ground face down, to get away. One hid under a neighbor’s vehicle.
Early the next morning, on July 13, Loya said he had texted Amaya and finally reached him on his cell phone. The two were talking on the phone when police took Amaya into custody without incident at approximately 5:40 a.m. at his workplace, Colorado Pool and Spa Scapes, which is along Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Authorities also recovered the pistol believed to commit the shootings in Amaya’s work vehicle. The Colorado Bureau of Investigations would later link fingerprints on the weapon to Amaya, Loya testified.
The arrest warrant affidavit says Herbert Amaya, 31, the brother of Williams Amaya, was in his bedroom with his family when he was awoken by gunfire. Herbert told detectives he got out of bed and walked down a hallway and saw Mayra Lopez moving. Eliseo Lopez was just beyond her with blood around his head, the affidavit said.
The Lopezes’ other son, a 14-year-old, came running to Herbert and told him “to get his family and get out of the house,” according to the affidavit. Once they exited, the son called 911, according to authorities.
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