Despite plea, questions remain in Trujillo murder

MONTROSE — Primary suspect, no more. As part of a mediated settlement, Lionel Lopez, 25, pleaded guilty as an accessory to first-degree murder in the grisly death of Montrose businesswoman Irene Trujillo.

His plea — an Alford to two counts of the accessory charge — netted him a total of 10 years in prison Thursday, when he entered the plea and was sentenced immediately.

But the plea leaves open the question of who did kill Trujillo, 47. Prosecutors and sheriff’s detectives continue to investigate.

Trujillo died of a gunshot to the head in 2003. Her body was found a few months after she was reported missing — partly burned, encased in concrete and mutilated — in a shallow grave at the stone quarry where she was part owner.

“It’s such a vicious thing and they treated it like a misdemeanor, accidental shooting,” Trujillo’s father, Rick Sungaila, said Friday. “Chopped up, burned up, covered with concrete. My God.”

Sungaila was not aware of the plea or the sentence Thursday until the Daily Press contacted him, and he said he was angry.

“I should have been informed,” he said. “I plan on doing something.”

The victim’s estranged husband, Rick Trujllo, said he and their children knew an agreement was in the works.

“I think it’s good closure for us,” he said. “He (Lopez) pleaded to accessory to murder. It’s a good thing. It’s good for the family. We’ll just see how it comes out here, soon.”

Lopez, a former employee of Irene Trujillo’s, was previously convicted of having burgled her home after she was reported missing in 2003.

He was indicted for first-degree murder in 2006.

The accessory charges are class-4 felonies. Lopez was sentenced to five years on each count, to run concurrently, for a total of 10 years.

Credit for pre-sentence confinement could shave three years off the time he spends in prison.

District Attorney Myrl Serra issued a press release about the plea and sentence late Thursday evening. He did not return calls or e-mails Friday and was not at his office Friday afternoon.

“From Lionel’s perspective, it was an Alford plea, but he thought the risk of going to trial was something, at this point, he wasn’t willing to take,” public defender Harvey Palefsky said. “He never admitted he took any part in the murder or the cover-up.”

Palefsky said resolution was reached through mediation, where a compromise between each party’s position is reached.

It’s not unheard of to resolve criminal cases through mediation, though it isn’t common.

Palefsky said he understood the Lopez resolution wouldn’t please everyone.

“If you believe he did it, I’m sure her family doesn’t think that (the sentence) is near enough. If you think he didn’t, then that’s certainly too much. Unfortunately, there’s not a great template for this case,” he said.

“I think the resolution was reached for recognition this case could’ve gone either way had it gone to trial, and both parties felt this was a livable solution.”

Sungaila, who called the sentence minimal, would beg to differ.

“I’m totally, totally numb. … I would like to know who he (Lopez) squealed on. Nobody will pay for Irene’s murder. How horrible. That’s not justice.”

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