Witness describes fatal beating that prosecutors call 'vigilante justice'

Trial of accused killer Daniel Lopez begins

By Paul Venema - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Prosecutors in the murder trial of Daniel Lopez told the jury in their opening statement Friday that the slaying was a case of "vigilante justice."

Lopez, 29, and co-defendant Gabriel Moreno, are accused of fatally beating Jose Luis Menchaca, 35, with baseball bats, dismembering his body and partially burning his arms and legs on a backyard barbecue grill.

The state's first witness in the trial was Sabrina Cavazos, 38, who was Moreno's girlfriend at the time of the murder.

Cavazos told jurors how she saw the two men attack Menchaca with baseball bats at a home on the city's near North Side home on the night of Sept. 29, 2014.

"He (Menchaca) was trying to just gasp for air, and he was, like, begged for his life," Cavazos said.

Cavazos said that she lured Menchaca to the home on orders from Moreno and Lopez. She said the men wanted revenge, claiming that Menchaca had stabbed Lopez several days earlier.

"Danny Lopez didn't just want to kill Jose Menchaca, he wanted him to suffer," prosecutor Matt Ludowig told the jury during his opening statement.

Prosecutors said that, after the men beat Menchaca, they dismembered his body and partially burned his limbs.

Although she witnessed the attack, Cavazos has not been charged in the case, which defense attorney J. Charles Bunk quickly pointed out.

"All those witnesses you're gonna hear from got a deal," Bunk told the jury. "You're not gonna be charged with murder. You're not gonna be charged with anything."

Moreno and Lopez have previously been charged in connection with Menchaca's murder. Both trials ended in mistrials.

Moreno is in the Bexar County Jail awaiting trial.

If Moreno and Lopez are convicted on a murder charge, they could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Lopez's trial will resume on Tuesday in Judge Ron Rangel's 379th District Court.

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