Grand jury finds insufficient evidence against murder suspect
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – An accused gunman is walking free after a grand jury found there was insufficient evidence to indict him, despite his surrender to police weeks ago.
Bryan Lee Lester, 20, turned himself into authorities in connection with the killing of 23-year-old Christopher Adam Lozano at a Tucson house party in December 2009. Hours later, Tucson City Court Judge Michael Pollard released Lester on 10 percent of his secured $15,000 bond – or $1,500.
But a grand jury dismissed the first-degree murder charge against Lester, after the determining that there was no a probable cause to move forward with the case.
"We respect the grand jury's decision and are assessing what further investigation can and should be done," County Chief Criminal Deputy David Berkman told KGUN9 News.
Santiago Lozano, the victim's father. said the emotional roller coaster of the last few weeks have been painful and draining for his family – and news of Lester's release makes this even harder.
"I was devastated. You just want to break down and cry," Lozano said, recounting the elation from Lester turning himself into Tucson Police, to the frustration over the low-bond amount set at his initial hearing, to news that Lester is now free. "It's hard to me to explain the emotions. It's been up and down. It's frustrating."
"It's a tough pill to swallow. It seems like the county doesn't care," said Cory Borbon, Lozano's long-time friend. "It seems like the very beginning, the ball was dropped on both ends – on the prosecution's end as well as Pretrial Services."
Criminal defense attorney Brick Storts is not involved with this case, but he says the grand jury has a much lower threshold in this proceeding than in a trial; they are simply deciding whether Lester more likely than not committed the crime, though he is surprised there isn't enough evidence to move forward with a first-degree murder case.
"That is unusual. It doesn't happen often. There are no two-ways about that," Storts, who believes neither TPD nor county prosecutors dropped the ball in this case. "The possibility is simply that the evidence that they had to present to the grand jury at least in this stage of proceedings wasn't sufficient to obtain and indictment."
Storts also cautions against equating Lester's surrender to a confession: "It can be effectively used at trial because your client is in effect saying, ‘I have nothing to fear and
For Lester's initial appearance, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall's office had requested Judge Pollard set a $1 million bond.
"We would always recommend at least a $1 million bond for someone who's committed a very dangerous offense who murdered an individual and who is a threat and endangerment to the public," LaWall said.
LaWall also told KGUN9 News that the bond amount usually correlates with the severity of the crime: "Normally, absolutely. One of the things that people can expect is that if they see an individual who's charged on a first-degree murder case, you would expect a very high.
According to court records, attorney Stanton Bloom said the following in a motion to set a reasonable bond on Lester's behalf.
"The defendant fully cooperated with the Tucson Police Department and gave a statement regarding this case.... Further, the defendant appeared for DNA tests as well as fingerprinting as requested by the County Attorney's Office."
The grand jury dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning the prosecution may go back to the grand jury again once and if they get more evidence against Lester.