An October sentencing date has been set for Lorenzo Mateo Cortez, 26, of Vallejo, who last month waived his right to a jury trial and did not contest three counts of murder, and has admitted improvements for each.
During a late Monday afternoon hearing, Solano Superior Court Judge Tim P. Kam, after some discussion with attorneys, set Cortez’s formal sentencing for 9 a.m. on May 28. October in Department 7 of the Justice Building in Vallejo.
But before setting a sentencing date, Kam amended the latest charging document saying Cortez – charged with three murders, two in late 2014 and one in January 2015, just days before he turned 19 – pleaded to a count. first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder.
In entering his pleas in the high-profile case, Cortez did not admit guilt but essentially said he would offer no defense in exchange for an 80-year-to-life sentence and therefore avoided prosecution. possibility of the death penalty.
Chained at the waist and ankles and wearing a striped prison jumpsuit, Cortez periodically spoke with his defense attorney, Jon C. Weir of Martinez, tilting his head at Weir as he sat at the table in the defense. Napa co-defendant Thomas Kensok’s attorney followed the proceedings remotely.
Kam also ordered county probation department officials to refrain from gathering underlying facts about his crimes during an interview that would yield a court presentation report.
Court records show Cortez also faces an ongoing prep conference and preliminary hearing in a separate case of five additional felonies: carrying a concealed weapon; carry a loaded firearm in public; possess one or more high-capacity magazines; drawing or showing a firearm to the driver of a vehicle; make a criminal threat.
Kam said he would address these “follow-up matters” in a hearing at 1:30 p.m. on August 24.
Weir also reminded Kam that the court ordered the prosecution to comply by July 26 with a defense request for data on 10 years of serious felony convictions in Solano County that indicated race. of the defendants, to determine whether race may have been a factor in these cases. . Cortez is biracial, the son of Puerto Rican and black parents.
Kam said he would address the issue at the August 24 hearing.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Julie Underwood, who is leading the prosecution with Assistant District Attorney Mark Ornellas, did not appear to say whether the Solano County District Attorney’s Office would complete compiling the data until Aug. 24.
California’s Racial Justice Act, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, prohibits racial bias in policing, prosecutions, and sentencing, and grants victims of such bias the right to raise RJA violations in their proceedings. criminal.
Regarding the July plea agreement, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said in a press release that his office “was faced with a number of unusual circumstances beyond our control and after careful consideration. of all these factors, we agreed to a disposition that was in the best interest of the case and public safety.
In an email to The Reporter after the plea deal, Kensok said, “Cortez was offered an 80-year-to-life contract in state prison. It allowed him to avoid both the death penalty and life without the possibility of parole.Because he was only 18 at the time of the offenses, California young offenders law controls all parole hearings.
The Solano County District Attorney’s Office filed its complaint against Cortez on March 2, 2015. These records show that Cortez was charged with the murder of 18-year-old Isaac Lopez-Reid on November 3, 2014; December 20, 2014, murder of Luis Perez, 18; and the January 10, 2015 murder of 20-year-old William Brown. All were shot in Vallejo.
Cortez’s plea deal came on the heels of a lengthy jury selection process that began in May. It included not only standard questionnaires and in-court statements by a range of potential jurors, but also questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys about jurors’ attitudes, beliefs and feelings regarding capital punishment if the case had to reach the sentencing phase after the convictions.
Vallejo police investigators, who arrested Cortez on March 2, 2015, while he was in Solano County Jail for unrelated crimes, believe he shot the first victim because Lopez- Reid had accused him of being “a snitch”. Investigators also believe the fatal shootings of Perez and Brown were execution-style murders, with both victims robbed of money and property.
Underwood argued that Cortez, using another person, lured his victims to one location and then shot them dead and that splitting the trial into three separate trials for each charge, as the defense wanted, would obscure ‘the context’ of the three murders. . If each charge is tried separately, “they would hear three identical murders”, she added during a hearing. Kam later denied splitting the trials.
She said there was evidence that showed Cortez and Lopez-Reid were in contact with each other through social media.
Cortez remains in custody without bail at Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield.