A Vallejo man who attacked an elderly couple with a butcher knife last year, hacking off an 84-year-old’s finger as she tried to defend herself, was sentenced to 17 years in prison Tuesday.
Judge Robert Bowers lamented recent changes to California law that made this the maximum sentence he could hand down for 35-year-old Juan Lopez-Garcia’s two charges of attempted murder and one charge of mayhem.
“What’s done is done,” Bowers told attorneys and the shackled Lopez-Garcia, who listened quietly through an interpreter. “From this court’s perspective, I feel like under these circumstances and these facts, I would give him a lot more time. But I can’t.”
Lopez-Garcia had been renting a room from 76-year-old Luis Lopez and 84-year-old Delfina Lopez when he fell behind on his rent. The couple’s daughter, Annette Delacruz, said her parents were eating breakfast the morning of Sept. 19 when Lopez-Garcia exited his room with a knife.
“(He) attacked my dad from the back and hit directly onto his head, broke his scalp and chopped his head several times,” Delacruz said. “He definitely looked horrible. I honestly can’t imagine how they survived that.”
Bleeding profusely but somehow still conscious, Luis Lopez ran to call the police. While he was gone, Lopez-Garcia turned on his wife.
“My mom got some chops in her head, but mainly her fingers and her hands from defending,” Delacruz said. “He chopped (off) one of her index fingers.”
Delfina Lopez will probably never be able to use her hands again.
As for her husband, his injuries left him unable to receive chemotherapy for cancer in the months after the attack. He died on April 16.
Delacruz said her parents “were left for dead” following the incident. Lopez-Garcia washed himself off with a hose in the yard and authorities found him walking in the street, shirtless.
Public Defender Kirby Madden said in court that Lopez-Garcia was “in a paranoid state” at the time of the attack and was later diagnosed with unspecified schizophrenia. He was talking to himself and rambled to police about the couple supposedly seeping gas into his room and other “things that have no basis in reality.”
“He thought he was threatened, in some bonkers, irrational way that he thought made sense at the time,” Madden said, adding that Lopez-Garcia appears deeply remorseful. He called the incident “a monstrous, awful act that happened when someone isn’t right in the head” and asked the court for a reduced sentence given mitigating circumstances.
Bowers was unsympathetic.
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He pointed out that the attacker expressed no regret when speaking to authorities after the incident, even going so far as to claim his victims were “bullying” him.
“He deserved the maximum punishment for what he did to these people,” the judge said. “As you know, I am not a ‘max’ judge. But sometimes there are cases that come before you that just cry out for punishment.”
Delacruz, who wept quietly in the gallery during proceedings, said she was “very emotional” after Tuesday’s ruling. She has “no idea” what Lopez-Garcia was thinking at the time of the attack, but like Bowers, she questioned state sentencing limits.
“It’s sad that two years ago he would’ve gotten 20-plus years, and now because of the new law, he can’t get a full term (for) all the things that he did,” she said. “That hits me hard.”