A 28-year-old Richland man who was drunk in 2010 when he led police on a high-speed chase and hit three patrol cars trying to get away now wants his conviction tossed because of issues with his lawyer.
Elvis Camillo R. Lopez has yet to be sentenced -- 3 1/2 months after the Benton County Superior Court guilty verdicts -- because of delays by his attorney. Lopez, who faces at least 11 years in prison, repeatedly has told the court he is ready to go away because he's been in the Benton County jail for more than two years and needs specialized medical treatment available through the state Department of Corrections.
However, on a few occasions in the past two months, lawyer Scott Etherton has appeared at sentencing only to inform Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner that he needs more time.
That was the case again this week when Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire was in court prepared to wrap up the Lopez matter. Whitmire said she was ready to proceed, but Etherton handed up a motion requesting a delay.
The motion was not entered in Lopez's file, so it's not clear exactly what was written, but as Spanner quietly read it, Etherton said, "I know it sounds like a country western song." He added that his computer also had crashed.
Etherton acknowledged that he had not met with his client or reviewed the case file in a month. He said he wants time to explore Lopez's pro se motion for a dismissal.
Etherton said he agrees that Lopez's case should be higher on the priority list. But he added that he is within case law to continue sentencing, especially if he wants to make sure everything is done correctly because Lopez is looking at significant time.
Lopez claims his speedy trial rights were violated in December when Etherton requested a continuance of five or six weeks so he could undergo surgery, but the court ended up pushing the trial out more than 13 weeks. Lopez's handwritten motions states he objected to the continuance and the trial should have gone forward in mid-January as soon as Etherton was available, instead of being set in March.
He also claims his right to speedy sentencing has been violated because the verdicts were returned April 26 and sentencing should have been done within 60 days.
Now, Spanner is questioning if there is a conflict between Etherton and his client that could lead to the attorney withdrawing from the case. Spanner told Etherton to return to court Wednesday after having reflected upon his "ethical responsibilities" and decided if he still can represent Lopez.
If Etherton steps down, an attorney will be appointed by the court for purposes of Lopez's motion and sentencing.
"The clock is ticking. We need to get this thing resolved one way or another, and we will do it before Sept. 7," Spanner said.
As Spanner was walking off the bench, Lopez spoke up and said he objected to it and wanted to be sentenced immediately.
Lopez said he's been in jail for two years, is on 23-hour-a-day lockdown and has a toothache that needs to be fixed. He's previously told the court he is on antipsychotic medications, has been hallucinating and hearing things and wants to go to prison so his meds can be changed and he can get treatment.
"I prefer to just go to prison and have the appellate courts deal with that," Lopez said of his dismissal motion.
Spanner disagreed, telling Lopez, "You place yourself at significant procedural disadvantage to go that way." He denied Lopez's request because he has a lawyer.
It all started April 13, 2010, when Lopez shoved his live-in girlfriend to the ground in their Richland home and took her 2005 Nissan Altima without her permission.
Richland police tried to stop him but eventually ended the pursuit when speeds reached 50 mph in a 25 mph school zone. Officers were concerned for children who had been released from Jason Lee Elementary and the school buses in the area, court documents stated.
Lopez was spotted in Benton City by Benton County sheriff's deputies. He again ignored attempts to stop the Nissan and almost hit a deputy's car head-on before swerving at the last second and hitting the driver's side, documents stated.
The Nissan avoided the path of one spike strip but ended up with all four tires punctured by another strip. Authorities then surrounded it, and that's when Lopez reportedly rammed the Nissan into the patrol car in front of him and then the one behind him.
He was ordered out of the car and, after threatening to kill himself with a knife if officers didn't back off, was shocked with a Taser and arrested.
His blood-alcohol level at the time was above Washington's legal limit of 0.08 percent, court documents said.
The final pursuit involved 10 law enforcement vehicles with officers from Richland, West Richland, Benton County and the Washington State Patrol.
Lopez was convicted of second- and third-degree assault, second-degree taking a vehicle without permission, first-degree robbery and two counts of attempting to elude police.
The jury also returned special verdicts that he was armed with a deadly weapon -- the car -- when he assaulted Deputy Patrick Tomren and for endangering the lives of others during the chase.
The prosecutor previously told the court that the standard range for Lopez's crimes is 11 to 14 years.