Suspect in 2016 H-E-B shooting ready for trial; delay likely

With the fourth anniversary of a deadly shooting at a Palmview H-E-B roughly three months down the road, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office on Monday said it is still not ready for trial.

Raul Lopez, a 29-year-old Mission resident, appeared in court Monday via video-conferencing where his attorney, O. Rene Flores, who is pursuing an insanity defense, said prosecutors still have not hired an expert to evaluate Lopez.

Lopez is accused of murder, three counts of criminal attempted murder, three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and a count of attempted capital murder of multiple persons after a Nov. 28, 2016, shooting inside the grocery store at Goodwin Road and U.S. Expressway 83.

Prosecutors say Lopez, who had worked at the H-E-B- for a few years, walked up to four square, dark-tinted windows and fired 15 shots from a 9mm handgun, killing 48-year-old Mario Pulido and injuring 37-year-old Rafael Ramirez-Martinez, 51-year-old Frailan Garza and 33-year-old Billy Joe Martinez.

Lopez had been working that night before he opened fire, and after the shooting he called 9-1-1, confessing, telling dispatch that “everyone was out to get him,” former Palmview Police Chief Christopher Cabrera said at the time.

The man told investigators that he believed the window was bullet proof and that no one was hurt, said Barrera, who described him as “paranoid.”

At his arraignment, Lopez told former state District Judge Rudy Delgado, who is serving time in federal prison for a bribery conviction, that he had previously been declared incompetent.

Flores, Lopez’s attorney, told prosecutors on Oct. 8, 2019, that he intended to pursue an insanity defense and since then prosecutors have stated their wish to have their own expert examine Lopez.

But during Monday’s hearing, prosecutor Maggie Hinojosa told state District Judge Fernando Mancias that the DA’s office hadn’t yet hired one, citing complications from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Flores, however, pushed back, telling Mancias that he is ready to go to trial on Sept. 8. It’s possible, but unclear, that jury trials could resume on Sept. 1. Jury trials have been canceled since March due to the pandemic.

Mancias said he understood, but told Flores it is unlikely Lopez will be able to go to trial on Sept. 8 and instead set a deadline for prosecutors to hire an expert psychiatrist by Sept. 8.

Lopez remains jailed on $1.9 million in bonds.