San Diego

Judge Rules Dad in Fatal Rancho Bernardo Condo Fire May Not Use New Law to Avoid Trial on Basis of Mental Illness

Henry Lopez is accused of falling asleep drunk on Oct. 28, 2017, with a lit cigarette in his mouth, which led to a fire in his condominium that killed his two children, Isabella Lopez, 7, and Cristos Lopez, 10

A Rancho Bernardo man will not be allowed to use mental illness to avoid a murder trial, a San Diego judge ruled Monday.

Earlier this year, NBC 7 reported how family members were concerned that a new law could impact what happens in the criminal case that gripped San Diego two years ago.

Isabella Lopez, 7, and Cristos Lopez, 10, were killed in the fire on Oct. 28, 2017, at their father's two-story condo on Bernardo Terrace in Rancho Bernardo.

According to prosecutors, Henry Lopez had passed out from drinking alcohol while smoking a cigarette just before the blaze sparked.

His attorney, however, claimed the Metro Arson Strike Team investigating the fire was lying and the fire could’ve been started by a cellphone charger.

The children were sleeping when the fire erupted.

The father was charged with five felonies involving the death of his children, including involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and the reckless starting of a fire. He pleaded not guilty to all charges in December 2018.

At his preliminary hearing in February 2018, prosecutors said his blood-alcohol level was 0.26 percent when it was taken at the hospital.

According to court documents, Henry Lopez had allegedly threatened to burn down the family’s home weeks before the fire. In a temporary restraining order obtained by NBC 7, the children’s mother, Nikia Lopez, claimed her husband had texted her: “I will burn all of this (expletive) down,” during a conversation the pair were having about a missing mortgage payment.

At Henry Lopez’s preliminary hearing, Nikia Lopez testified that she had fought with Henry Lopez over a lit marijuana joint found next to a bed in the home.

The case was supposed to go to trial in November 2018, but there were delays in court proceedings.

Lopez could have been among the first to use a new defense strategy under a new state law which took effect in January.

Under the law, a judge could consider dropping charges, if the defendant suffers from a serious mental disorder, including PTSD.

Lopez did serve in the military but was never deployed. 

On Monday, a San Diego judge ruled the defendant didn't meet the minimum requirements to claim a mental illness.

The trial is now scheduled to begin in September. If convicted, Henry Lopez could face 14 years in prison.

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