Key witness in murder trial struggled with identifying friend's killer

Robert Lopez ID's Nathan Knowles in court as man who killed his friend

By Paul Venema - Reporter, Sal Salazar - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - Among prosecutors' first questions Tuesday for key state witness Robert Lopez in the murder trial of Nathan Knowles was, "Can you identify the man you saw shoot, Michael Berlanga?"

Lopez pointed to Knowles, 35, and said: "He's back there with glasses and a black shirt."

Knowles is on trial for murder, accused of shooting Michael Berlanga to death outside a North Zarzamora Street corner store on October 3, 2017.

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Lopez testified that he and his friend, Berlanga, were driving around the West Side of town that evening when Berlanga stopped and began arguing with several men outside the Zarzamora Street Corner Store.

He said the argument led to a fistfight. And suddenly gunfire.

"I hear gunshots," Lopez testified.

"How many?" asked prosecutor Stacy Harrington. "I wanna say three or four and after that, I see the defendant leaving in his car," Lopez answered.

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Lopez said that, before leaving in Berlanga's truck, he stopped to check on his friend.

"I kept asking him his name and I tried to pick him up on his shoulder and he was gone," Lopez said.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Dan Rodriguez, Lopez testified that in the days that followed the shooting, detectives showed him several photo line-ups. Lopez added that he struggled with making a positive identification of his friend's killer.

"It looked like the guy that shot Michael Berlanga," Lopez said when showed a photo of Knowles.

Rodriguez persisted with his questioning and Lopez’s answer changed from "looked like" to "possibly."

"Possibly, yes, it might be, yes," Lopez said.

Back on direct examination, Harrington asked Lopez who shot Berlanga.

"Nathan Knowles," Lopez answered.

When Rodriguez asked him why he ran instead of staying with his dying friend, Lopez said that he was scared.

"I was afraid that I would be shot next," Lopez said.

If convicted, Knowles faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Testimony is expected to continue on Wednesday in 437th District Court with Senior District Judge Raymond Angelini presiding.

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