Murder Trial For Evansville Man Accused Of Shooting Another In Bad Drug Deal

A 25-year-old Evansville man was bound over to Natrona County District Court on second-degree murder and drug charges Monday for the Feb. 1 shooting death of a Casper man in a drug deal gone wrong.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

March 11, 20246 min read

A Casper police investigation into a Feb. 1 shooting near the intersection of 15th Street and Cottonwood has resulted in a murder charge against an Evansville man.
A Casper police investigation into a Feb. 1 shooting near the intersection of 15th Street and Cottonwood has resulted in a murder charge against an Evansville man. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — A Wyoming man suspected of shooting another man during a Feb. 1 drug deal gone wrong will stand trial on felony charges that include second-degree murder.

Rajion Lee Vu, 25, of Evansville, was bound over to Natrona County District Court on Monday following a preliminary hearing where his defense attorney tried to bring out evidence Vu acted in self-defense.

Vu sat beside his attorney, Keith Nachbar, looking down at the table for most of the hearing as Casper Police Department Detective Chris Miller outlined the department’s investigation into the shooting on the city’s southwest side that took the life of Brandon A. Lopez, 30.

Testimony showed the incident unfolded during an attempted marijuana sale.

Vu faces charges of second-degree murder, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance charges stemming from the incident.

Assistant District Attorney Blaine E. Nelson walked Miller through the CPD investigation and preservation of the crime scene. Miller said a witness statement from Vu’s girlfriend, Angela Smith, says that Lopez got into their Subaru Impreza on the evening of Feb. 1, examined the marijuana given him by Vu in a white box, and then threatened them.

“I have a gun and I’ll (expletive) shoot you,” Miller testified Smith heard Lopez say, before Lopez got out of the vehicle with both of his hands holding the white box with marijuana.

Miller said Smith saw the pair get out of the vehicle and face each other, but did not see Vu take a gun she knew was in the car.

Shortly after that, she heard three shots, Miller testified.

Challenges To Contradictions

Statements by other witnesses to police allege that Lopez had spent part of the day with his girlfriend and had indicated he was going to buy drugs that evening. He had approached the vehicle with Vu inside with an acquaintance who roomed in the same house as Lopez’s girlfriend. That acquaintance, according to his statement to police, kept walking past the vehicle.

Smith told police that the acquaintance was told by Vu not to get in the vehicle.

That contradiction would bring questions from Nachbar as well as a statement from the mother of Lopez’s girlfriend, who testimony showed initially lied to police about driving past Lopez’s body and seeing that he was shot when in fact she had stayed at her house and was told by her daughter to lie when she made the initial 911 call.

The conduct by Lopez’s girlfriend and her roommate also was called into question. The roommate disappeared for two days before being found by police and the girlfriend allegedly told police that following the discovery of Lopez’s body, she returned to her home and took a shower.

Nachbar raised questions about the reliability of the witnesses, including Lopez’s girlfriend, her roommate and her mother, and why the girlfriend would need to take a shower. He asked why police interviewed Lopez’s girlfriend four times.

“She was having trouble remembering everything that occurred,” Miller said.

Nachbar also asked the detective if it was his understanding that Lopez was trying to steal drugs from Vu.

“Ms. Smith told us no money was exchanged,” Miller said.

“It’s also your understanding that Mr. Lopez threatened them?” Miller asked. “You would call that a threat, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes,” Miller answered.

Bullet Trajectory

Nelson would focus on evidence about the trajectory of the single .38-caliber bullet that entered Lopez in the back and ended up lodged at the base of his brain.

He said it proved Lopez was crouching at the time the bullet entered his body. Distance from the casings and his body showed he had tried to run away, he argued.

Information from an autopsy showed Lopez could not have taken more than a step or two, then would have been paralyzed because of the location of the bullet against his spinal vertebrae, Nelson said.

“The preliminary hearing is to establish probable cause,” Nelson said. “Questions of self-defense or the credibility of witnesses may need to be addressed in District Court.”

Nachbar tried to punch holes in the prosecution’s case by pointing out no weapon has been found and evidence along with witness statements have not directly linked his client to the person who pulled the trigger.

Nelson countered that search warrants of Vu’s relative’s house and a storage container recovered ammunition as well as an empty case for a Glock pistol, the type used in the shooting. The man who accompanied Lopez to Vu’s car stated he walked around the block and came back to an intersection that allowed him to hear a door slam and see Lopez running and then see a person leaning out the passenger side window and firing three shots.

And then there was the statement by Smith that her boyfriend got out of the car, and she heard three shots.

Nelson pointed to statements by Smith that after the shooting, the couple got rid of the gun and remaining marijuana in alley trash bins blocks away from the shooting and then went to South Dakota to get rid of clothes and shower — all indications “of guilt,” he said.

Judge: No Self Defense

Judge Kevin Taheri agreed.

“There is evidence that Mr. Lopez was going to rob Mr. Vu of his marijuana,” he said. “That whole event gives Mr. Vu a motive to shoot Mr. Lopez.”

The judge also referenced an alleged confession by Vu to a relative that was shared with detectives. Miller had testified earlier of the the relative’s statement that Vu said he “messed up” and “shot” somebody.

“I would find that the state has showed that it was not in self-defense,” Taheri said.

He said the fact the defendant got out of his vehicle when Lopez did, then would dispose of his clothes as well as evidence that Lopez “was shot in the back while in retreat,” does not show self-defense.

Evidence obtained at Vu’s Evansville home of packaging and notes, information from cellphones of those involved, and the statement by Smith give probable cause to bind Vu over on the drug charges, the judge said.

The second-degree murder charge carries a penalty of not less than 20 years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. The possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and the conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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