After a two-day trial with three hours of deliberation Tuesday at the Sebastian County Courthouse in Fort Smith, the jury for Ryan Oxford’s first-degree murder charge returned late Wednesday morning with a verdict of guilty for second-degree murder and terroristic acts.
The six-woman, six-man jury recommended a sentence of 20 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections for the second-degree murder charge, and 20 years for terrorist acts causing a death with a firearm. Thirty-two years for additional charges of terrorist acts were also recommended. However, the jury recommended that none of the sentencing run consecutively.
Sebastian County Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh said he expected to render a final verdict by 2 p.m. today. The case was tried for the state by Sebastian County Deputy Prosecutors Scott Houston and Robert McClure. Jeff Atkinson served as the court-appointed defense attorney for Oxford.
Oxford, now 20 and clean cut, is one of four Slangaz96 gang members charged in the Jan. 14 shooting death of Justin Lopez. Two of the gang members, Bryan Porras and Alberto Chavez, shot more than 30 rounds into a camper trailer behind a home at 2315 N. Ninth St. in Fort Smith. Lopez, 18, and Trey Miller, then 20, were in the trailer and reported to be members of a rival gang, Cloutboys. One bullet struck Lopez in the brain stem and killed him.
Porras, 19, and Chavez, 19, used AK-47 and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles supplied by Oxford, a former employee of Midland Pawn, who was “blessed” into the gang late last year, according to suspected shooting accomplice and Slangaz96 gang member Jorge Chirinos, 17. Chirinos is being charged as an adult for first-degree murder and terroristic acts and has a mandatory appearance set Wednesday.
Oxford said he never knew why they were going to the trailer, but admitted to serving as the “getaway” driver after the shooting. According to testimony by Chirinos, they returned to a wedding party at the Fort Smith Convention Center in the attempt to establish an alibi.
According to a Fort Smith Police Vice Unit officer, the Slangaz and Cloutboys are actually a “hybrid gang” section of the Florencia 13, aka FX13, and the local factions were created several years ago.
A jury convicted Porras of first-degree murder in November with sentencing of 123 years in prison. Chavez was subsequently convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 80 years in prison.
During the Oxford trial, it was noted that Chavez shot the AR-15 that killed Lopez. Porras shot the AK-47 that night. Both guns were purchased by Oxford, who sold the AR-15 to Porras for $550 in late December 2016 and used the proceeds to buy an AK-47. Oxford never admitted to having handed over the Russian-made AK-47 to Porras, but contended that he took it from his home when he was not there. However, both weapons were in the car the night of the shooting.
In Snapchat videos shot by Porras and showed in the trial, Porras held and waived the AK-47 in an intimidating manner. Oxford could be seen holding a pistol with a laser-pointer toward the camera.
Julie Saracay, the mother of Justin Lopez, read a victim impact statement to the jury before the sentencing phase.
“Unless you’ve experienced the loss of a child and been a witness to my random breakdowns, you cannot truly understand how the pain runs deeply within me all the time,” Saracay said holding back tears. “It’s a struggle to make it day to day. He was my baby.”
Saracay also said it had always been her greatest fear something like this would happen to one of her four children, and now anytime one of them calls, she has a panic attack in fear something has happened.
“The pain is not just emotional. It’s also physical," Saracay said. "My heart actually hurts a lot of the time. Everything I was before is gone. I will never be the same again.”
She said she often has nightmares and when the dreams are good she is happy only for a split second when she awakes and realizes it was "only a dream."
“He was a genuine pure soul who didn’t deserve what happened to him,” Saracay said of her son. “He deserved to grow old with his family. He should be here to raise and nurture his son and teach him things only a father can teach his son.”
Justin Lopez died when his son, Jonathan, was less than a year old.
“Some days are better than others, but everything is a reminder of him,” Saracay said crying. “When I see flowers it reminds me of his grave. When I smell cooking on the grill it reminds me of him. When I see a boy out of the corner of my eye that reminds me of him, and I do a double take just to be disappointed it isn’t him. … In the end no one can understand how this will continue to affect me and my family for the rest of our lives.”
The mother of Justin Lopez's child also read a victim impact statement.
Oxford’s mother, Diana Oxford, explained to the jury before the sentencing phase of the trial that her son had grown up without a father, who was an alcoholic, and he's "been empty in that respect." She had kept her son from finding him, she added, because she was in fear of the harm he could do to him.
A man who had taken on a father figure role had died when her son was transferring from middle to high school, she added. Ryan Oxford had also always been a “collector,” she said, and had only shown interest in music, playing guitar and drums, before he worked at the pawn shop. There, she said, he learned more about guns. And she never liked Bryan Porras, whom she had tried to keep from her son for many years. But when her daughter had a child in late December 2016 at Prescott, Ariz., she went there to help and was unable to “protect” him from Porras. That’s when he sold the AR-15 to Porras, she said.
Oxford's path down the wrong road was the result of a variety of circumstances, she replied to Houston's question on whether she felt it was his work at the pawn shop that badly influenced him.
"He's never been a bad person," Diana Oxford said of her son. "He's a Christian and believes in God. I need him."
After the sentencing recommendations were read and the jurors dismissed, Oxford was allowed to hug his mother in the courtroom before being taken back to jail. He could be overheard telling his mother to “keep your head up.”