Jury acquits West Haven man of murder but convicts him of robbery in store owner’s slaying
Appearing to ignore the instructions from the judge, a jury on Thursday, May 31, found a West Haven man not guilty of felony murder in the slaying of Bridgeport store owner Jose Salgado — but guilty of the attempted robbery that led to his death.
But Police Chief Armando Perez called the not guilty verdict a slap in the face for the community.
“The jury is ignorant of the law and I hope they never have to go through what the Salgado family went through,” Perez said. “This was a man (Salgado) who worked all his life and was well respected in the community — and this man was guilty of killing him.”
The Superior Court jury of six men and six women deliberated about 10 hours over three days before finding Treizy Lopez, 21, not guilty of felony murder but guilty of attempted first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery in the 2015 death of Salgado.
Sitting in the second row of the courtroom spectator section, surrounded by police officers, the Salgado family held hands and shook their heads as the verdict was announced. They later declined comment.
“We appreciate the time and effort the jury put into the case and we feel they reached the appropriate verdict,” Lopez’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender James Pastore said later. “My client and his family are still mindful an innocent man lost his life and if not for the evil doings of Mr. Leighton Vanderberg he (Salgado) would still be alive.”
Lopez faces up to 45 years in prison for the robbery charge convictions when he is sentenced July 13, five years more than his co-defendant, 23-year-old Vanderberg, of New Haven, who pleaded guilty last July to taking part in the crime with Lopez and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He contends Lopez was the shooter.
During the week-long trial, Lopez admitted on the witness stand that he and his friend, Vanderberg, had come to Bridgeport on April 11, 2015, to rob drug dealers but instead, wearing ski masks and carrying guns, entered the popular Sapiao’s Grocery on Lexington Avenue in Bridgeport’s Hollow as the Salgado’s were preparing to close up.
Maria Salgado, who testified she was standing behind the counter of the store when her husband was shot in the neck and the chest, identified Vanderberg as the shooter. Lopez, whose DNA was found on the murder weapon, insisted he didn’t know Vanderberg, was going to kill the owner.
But Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. told the jurors several times that for the charge of felony murder it was irrelevant who pulled the trigger.
“It is whether it was caused during the course of an attempted robbery. A person who participates in an attempted robbery is equally responsible in that death,” the judge told the jury after they requested to rehear his instruction on the law.
Speaking for the other jurors, who nodded agreement with him outside the courthouse, juror David Grillo, of Trumbull, insisted they followed the law with their verdict.
“The law is open to interpretation and we did come to the right resolution,” Grillo said. “We had to make sure we were following the law, as lay people we are not familiar with the law. We poured over it and researched it…that’s how the process works.”
Grillo said Lopez’s claims on the witness stand were not a factor in their decision. “It had to do more with our interpretation of the court’s instruction and the law,” he said.