Trenton murderer Alberto “Choppy” Lopez gets convicted on all counts

Alberto “Choppy” Lopez has been found guilty on all counts in the murder of 17-year-old Shamere Melvin.

A jury on Thursday handed down the sweeping verdict, convicting Lopez of being the armed robber who shot and killed Melvin in the streets of Trenton nearly five years ago.

Lopez, 21, of Trenton, pointed a handgun at Melvin and fired a single shot into the victim’s forehead about 8:40 p.m. Dec. 18, 2013. The incident occurred on the 300 block of North Clinton Avenue near Trenton Police headquarters back when Lopez was 16. Cops arrested him the following day.

After years of being prosecuted as an adult, Lopez took his case to trial and lost. A jury of his peers convicted him of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder during the commission of a crime, first-degree armed robbery, second-degree possession of a firearm for unlawful purposes, and second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun. He faces 30 years to life in prison but will likely get sentenced to something on the lower end of the scale due to him committing the murder as a juvenile. 

On the day of the murder, Lopez was plotting to rob a drug dealer of marijuana, Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Grillo said earlier this week in closing arguments. Lopez ultimately selected Melvin as his victim, isolated him on North Clinton Avenue, pointed a handgun at him and demanded pot before firing a single gunshot into Melvin’s forehead. Then Lopez rummaged through the victim’s pockets for 2 ounces of weed and fled from the scene, Grillo said.

“It is not disputed that the defendant was there for marijuana,” Grillo said. “The only purpose of firing a handgun into someone’s head is to kill him.”

Two eyewitnesses testified in Lopez’s murder trial, both of whom identified Lopez as the gunman who shot and killed Melvin in cold blood. “They were forced to witness a killing,” Grillo said of the witnesses in his closing arguments, “forced to shoulder the weight of securing justice for Shamere Melvin.”

Grillo suggested the eyewitnesses were brave for cooperating with the state in exchange for nothing other than the “satisfaction they told the truth.” He said witnesses oftentimes do not cooperate with police for fear of retaliation.

Lopez’s public defender, Nicole Carlo, argued that her client was “wrongfully accused because there was a rush to judgment, a rush to judgment by police.” The jury unanimously disagreed with her closing arguments.

After the verdict came down, Grillo told The Trentonian he was “thrilled with the jury’s verdict” and “very happy for Shamere’s family. It has been a long, difficult road for them and it feels like they can finally have a chance moving past this a little bit after having to spend five years having to continue coming to court and deal with the possibility there may not be justice for Shamere Melvin.”

But the jury delivered justice on Thursday by convicting Lopez on all counts in a case that did not feature any physical evidence — no murder weapon was recovered, no surveillance video captured the incident and authorities found no DNA or fingerprints linking Lopez to the murder.

The case primarily boiled down to two eyewitnesses who saw Lopez committing the grisly crime.

“It is very satisfying to know the jury is willing to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses even in the absence of forensic and video evidence,” Grillo said Thursday in his interview with The Trentonian. “It is not an exaggeration to say there was no physical evidence at all.”

The cooperating witnesses in this case were not jailbirds. They were not criminals seeking favors or leniency. “They were just straight-up eyewitnesses,” Grillo said Thursday, “who got nothing in exchange for what they did.”

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier will sentence the convicted murderer at a future date tentatively set for October. Lopez, of course, has the right to file an appeal with the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division.

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