January 23 -- A Santa Monica man charged with murder
for allegedly shooting at two local undercover police officers
a year ago, hitting one, was found not guilty Tuesday afternoon.
After three days of deliberations, a jury at LAX Superior Court
cleared 20-year-old German Michael Espindola of two counts of
attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm and one
count of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
It was not Espindola, but his cousin, Isaac Lopez, who was the
gunman, said defense attorney David Diamond. Witnesses testified
that Espindola was in his Pico Neighborhood apartment when the
shooting took place.
“I stated from the beginning that Michael is innocent,"
Diamond said after the verdict. "The many officers in this
case gave inconsistent testimony.
“The evidence has clearly shown who the shooter is, so
I am offering my assistance in the prosecution of Mr. Isaac Lopez.
The victims in this case were the SMPD officers as well as Michael
Espindola who sat in jail for one year awaiting his day in court.”
Espindola was accused of firing at the two undercover officers
who were following a van in which he was allegedly a passenger
on February 2 of last year. A bullet hit the wrist of Officer
Walter Ramirez, who was treated and released. His partner was
During the trial, Espindola’s mother, Josephine Lopez,
testified that her son was home when the shooting took place at
around 5 a.m. outside the apartment they share near 17th Street
and Pico Boulevard.
Espindola’s stepfather was arrested in the driver’s
seat of the van used in the incident, police said. Less than two
hours later, a SWAT team negotiated the surrender of Espindola
and his cousin, who were at the apartment.
The defense claimed that Espindola was downloading music and
videos on his computer when the shooting took place and that it
was his cousin, who had been staying at the apartment, who was
responsible for the crime.
It was Espindola’s cousin, Issac Lopez, who ran into the
apartment shortly after the shots were fired, the defense said.
Neither Espindola’s prints nor DNA was found on the gun
police recovered above the stove and linked to the shooting, Diamond
said. Instead, the DNA belonged to his cousin.
"Our case opened with a DNA expert ruling out my client
as a contributor to the DNA found on the grip and trigger of the
gun," Diamond said.
"Our computer expert followed with a finding that my client
was on the computer listening to music at the time when the officer
purported to see him at a grocery store and then again at the
time when the shooting took place,” he said.
Espindola -- who was held on $2.4 million bail and faced life
in prison if convicted -- was the wrong man, Diamond told the
jury, adding that the suspect was a former gang member who was
working and going to school.
Prosecutors said one of the police officers identified Espindola
as the shooter and another officer had seen him driving in the
van used in the shooting just minutes before the incident.
An expert witness for the prosecution testified that it was rare
to find fingerprints on a weapon.
The incident began shortly before dawn when an officer saw a
van suspiciously parked partway on the sidewalk at the Ralph’s
Supermarket on Olympic and Cloverfield boulevards, police said.
The officer requested an undercover unit, and Ramirez and his
partner, who were wearing plainclothes and driving an unmarked
car, responded, according to police.
When they stopped to conduct a robbery surveillance of the van,
the suspects drove away and the officers followed them down Pico
Boulevard, police said.
They lost the van briefly, but found it again in a driveway on
17th street. As the officers drove up, one of them saw the shooter
get out of the passenger side holding a gun.
The gunman fired three shots. One round went through the officers'
windshield. One hit Ramirez in the right wrist. The third bullet
went through the right rear passenger window, police said.