Journalism in the Public Interest

Ernie Lopez to Face Charges Again

Despite detailed challenges
to the medical evidence, prosecutor says he sees no change in the facts of the


Ernie Lopez in an interview with PBS Frontline last year. (Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline)

A Texas district attorney has decided to re-try an Amarillo man on charges that he sexually assaulted a six-month old girl, just days after the state’s appeals court threw out his 2003 conviction.

ProPublica, PBS “Frontline,” and NPR examined the case against Ernie Lopez last year, raising questions about the soundness of the medical evidence used against him. The appeals court ruled that Lopez had received ineffective counsel because his lawyer failed to challenge testimony by the medical examiner and other prosecution witnesses that the child’s injuries were caused by abuse.

The baby, Isis Vas, died shortly after the alleged assault.

The court left it up to the local prosecutor to decide whether Lopez would go free or face a second trial.

“The case is not going to get dismissed,” Potter County District Attorney Randall Sims told ProPublica and PBS “Frontline.” Sims represents the state’s 47th Judicial District.

In a press conference yesterday, Sims made it clear that he will go forward with a second trial.  “He’s coming back on the exact same charge,” said the prosecutor, according to the Amarillo Globe-News. “The case is at the exact same place any case would be right after it’s been indicted by the grand jury.”

In the years since the trial, Lopez’s appellate attorneys have marshaled an array of experts who’ve challenged the notion that he sexual assaulted and violently shook Vas, pointing to medical evidence suggesting she may have been killed by a blood disorder brought on by an infection. The condition can mimic the symptoms of child abuse.  

The case highlights a growing international debate about the soundness of the science used to prosecute cases of fatal child abuse and sexual assault. At least 23 people in the U.S. and Canada have been wrongly accused of killing children, and in California, Gov. Jerry Brown is currently considering granting clemency to a woman convicted of shaking her 7-week-old grandson.

Police and prosecutors have been idolized in movies and on countless TV programs. At best they are only human, at worst they are evil and vindictive.

It is a rare case when the prosecutor will admit a mistake.

DASims planning to retry an accused for the same crime?  Whatever happened to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights?

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; ****nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb;**** nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Beyond what seems to be Double Jeopardy (any ideas how Sims is making that happen without immediately getting laughed out of court?), I don’t see why he’d bother.  From what little I know about the trial, the only evidence he has is that Lopez was there when the baby died.

With that being shown as irrelevant enough to overturn the conviction, either Sims has more damning evidence (withheld at the first trial and presumably getting people in trouble) or he doesn’t (leading to a crushing defeat).  Each of those sounds like a career-killer, so I can’t imagine what he’s Ahabbing-out over.

First, double jeopardy does not apply here.  The judge essentially granted Mr. Lopez a new trial due to the ineffective counsel of his first trial.  The DA may have decided not to waste money retrying the case, but instead he decided it was worth the money, rather than to admit a mistake.  It will cost tens of thousands of dollars for Mr Sims to retry Mr. Lopez.  If I was a local tax payer, I might be inclined to question why we’re spending so much money in an effort to re-convict an innocent man who has already spent several years in prison for a crime that never occurred.  Apparently, many prosecutors don’t seem to care whether someone is guilty or innocent.  They only care about whether or not they can make a jury believe someone is guilty.  Mr. Sims apparently sees this as a personal challenge.  If there is a crime here, it lies with Mr. Sims.

Thanks for clarifying the Double Jeopardy issue, Jeremy.  I thought I had read something to that effect, but couldn’t remember.

It has come to a point in our society, where we can no longer believe the scientist and those associated with science who “claim” to know more than the average citizens.  They have thrown out common sense and logical conclusions for scientific evidence, that has been doctored, no pun intended, and slanted viewpoints.

I have read of several cases where the parents of a child were charged for abuse, only to later discover that it was caused by reactions to medicines or some other foreign substance, and/or other physical abnormalities, and that the parents had in no way been involved in the death of the child.  Yet these parents were forced to either pay thousands of dollars for a legal defenses, or else depend on a court appointed attorney for their legal defense.  The later of which has proven through the years to be both ineffective and lacking in expertise in many cases, or else fail to pursue the innocence of the accused, and instead encouraged the defendant to make a plea deal, and plead guilty to a leaser charge.

Furthermore, if the science that courts accept as evidence at trial is so “scientifically sound,” how is it that over and over again two or more scientist can look at the same “evidence,” and draw conclusions that are so separated?  Could it be that much of this evidence that is used to convict a person, and throw them in prison for many years, or life is no more reliable than the lie-detector test?

The fact is that there is without a doubt, a total disconnect between what is construed as justice by our present judicial system, and what is real justice.  There is hardly a day that goes by where we do not hear of some one being exonerated or else a new trial is ordered because of discrepancies, or some other error in the previous trial.  All of this should be alarming to any and every American, because none of us know when we will be blamed for a crime that we did not commit, and because the system as it now stands is not close to being fool proof, it offers no guarantee that we will be found innocent, even when we are innocent.

This stands as my greatest reason for being against the death penalty, because far to many people who have been found guilty and sent to prison, and/or given the death penalty have been exonerated, unfortunately more than a few times after they were already put to death.

What is wrong with this picture? If Lopez was a middle class, white male, this would have never happened. That statement alone makes me sick to my stomach! 
This Prosecuter that is retrying him, should be ashamed of himself.  There is a sufficient amount of evidence that proves that this man, a father, did not do what he was convicted of. Sometimes, you have to swallow your pride and admit the mistakes you make.  For him to do this would be easy, he wasn’t the prosecuter at the time of the first trial.  I am sure this is polical, now a days, it always comes back to that in the courts.
I hope and pray for Mr Lopez daily since I saw this story on Frontline.  God is with you, he will make this right, that’s what you can always depend on. As for the Prosecuter, you will have to stand before God one day and answer for this. Be ready to be judged yourself!

Thank you,

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Post Mortem

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The reality in America’s morgues is quite different. ProPublica, in collaboration with PBS “Frontline”  and NPR, took an in-depth look at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.

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