Gunman who murdered Trenton teen Shamere Melvin now expresses remorse, gets 42 years in prison
Convicted murderer Alberto “Choppy” Lopez has finally been punished for his deadly crimes.
A Superior Court judge on Friday sentenced Lopez to 42 years of incarceration for executing 17-year-old Shamere Melvin during a planned robbery in the streets of Trenton.
“He is greatly missed; he was the glue of my family,” the victim’s mother Natasha Melvin said at Friday’s sentencing hearing. “He didn’t deserve the way he was executed.”
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.
Speaking to the court under oath, Natasha Melvin said she and her family were “destroyed” by the loss of Shamere Melvin. “He made a lot of people happy,” she said. “He was so kind. To know him is to love him.”
To his credit, Lopez delivered brief comments during Friday’s proceeding. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said in comments directed toward the victim’s family. “I’m not sane. I’m not a sane person.”
One of the most difficult challenges a trial judge can face is sentencing a juvenile who had been convicted of first-degree murder. Lopez was a 16-year-old boy when he brutally shot and killed Melvin at close range over five years ago.
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders,” according to the June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. Under federal case law, judges “must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles.”
Because Lopez was a juvenile when he murdered Melvin, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier had to consider special factors before handing down a punishment.
In trying to assess whether Lopez’s deadly crime reflected “unfortunate yet transient immaturity” or whether Lopez was a “rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption,” Billmeier reviewed Lopez’s upbringing to make an informed decision.
Lopez used marijuana on a daily basis since age 11 and lacked maturity and lacked understanding of the risks involved in his robbery-turned-murder, Billmeier found. He also found that Lopez’s mom was addicted to drugs and that Lopez had a “somewhat dysfunctional family.”
“He certainly understood how the system worked,” Billmeier said of Lopez, who had six prior juvenile adjudications for various offenses, including aggravated assault on a law-enforcement officer.
Police arrested Lopez on Dec. 19, 2013, one day after the murder. He sat in the Mercer County Correction Center for years on high monetary bail. While incarcerated, he took anger management courses at the county jail and also completed his high school diploma.
“He is maturing, trying to better himself with his education,” Billmeier said of Lopez. “I think he can be rehabilitated in prison.”
Billmeier sentenced Lopez to 42 years of incarceration subject to the No Early Release Act. That means Lopez must serve 85 percent of the term behind bars — over 35 years in the slammer — before he can become eligible for release on parole. This punishment, while stiff, is not as harsh as what the state had recommended and not as lenient as what the defense had requested.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Grillo asked the court to impose 55 years of incarceration subject to the No Early Release Act, while public defender Jason C. Matey asked Billmeier to sentence his client to 30 years under NERA, which would have required Lopez to serve 25.5 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Billmeier met the prosecution and defense halfway by sentencing Lopez to 42 years of state imprisonment. Under state law, the sentencing range for murder is 30 years to life in prison, with “life” being defined as 75 years.
At the sentencing hearing, Lopez’s mother spoke and admitted she had a drug problem while declaring her son was “not a monster.” The defendant’s father Alberto Lopez Sr. also spoke, saying he was a positive role model to his son and expressing his “deep condolences and apologies” to the victim’s family.
Natasha Melvin is still grieving the sudden loss of her slain son but also feels empathy for Lopez’s family. “We all lost,” she said. “There are no winners in this situation.”
A trial jury convicted Lopez on all counts last summer after two eyewitnesses testified against the defendant, identifying him as the gunman who had shot and killed Melvin in cold blood.
Lopez received 1,870 days of jail credit, which effectively reduces his prison sentence by that amount. He will be subjected to five years of parole supervision upon release from the big house.