Edgar Lopez-Benitez

Edgar Lopez-Benitez

BELTON — A Temple teenager certified to stand trial as an adult was sentenced Tuesday to 45 years in prison for the murder of 15-year-old Andrew Bryan.

Edgar Lopez-Benitez, 17, also was sentenced by Bell County 426th District Court Judge Fancy Jezek to 10 years in prison for a Temple arson case that he pleaded guilty to. Both sentences will run concurrently.

Lopez-Benitez will be about 39 years old before he will be considered for parole, officials confirmed. He must serve at least 22 years of his sentence for the murder conviction.

The senseless slaying resulted from jealousy over a girl, a prosecutor said.

“Because he got angry over a girlfriend and felt insulted, he chose the coward’s way out and used a gun,” Bell County Assistant District Attorney Anne Jackson said during closing arguments at the defendant’s sentencing hearing. “And he shows no remorse.

“He does whatever he wants and someone gets hurt.”

Lopez-Benitez was 16 years old when he shot and killed Bryan on Nov. 8, 2017, in Jackson Park, 925 N. Fourth St. He said in a written confession that he set fire to a house on Nov. 6, 2017, just two days before the murder. His attorney, Thomas Seigman with Seigman, Starritt-Burnett & Sinkfield in Harker Heights, claimed Tuesday that Lopez-Benitez didn’t commit the arson.

The defendant was certified as an adult for both charges.

Lopez-Benitez showed no apparent emotion in court Tuesday. He kept his head bowed most of the time — even when his mother testified.

Brutal slaying detailed

The slaying occurred after Lopez-Benitez and Bryan argued over a girl, Temple Police Detective James Corey Powell testified on Tuesday.

The two teenagers “had words” over the girl, and Bryan went to Lopez-Benitez’s house because he wanted to fight him, Powell said. After Bryan left, Lopez-Benitez said he was going to the park to kill Bryan — and he did, according to the defendant’s written confession.

The morning of the shooting, a woman said she heard six gunshots.

Powell told the sequence of shots that led to Bryan’s death.

Lopez-Benitez pulled out a gun and told Bryan to run. As Bryan ran, one shot was fired into the ground. The second shot hit him in the back of the leg, and the third went into his back. Bryan, who did not have a weapon, fell to the ground.

The defendant approached Bryan, pointed the gun at his knees and then shot the boy in the chest. Bryan got up and then fell to the ground and died at the scene, Powell testified.

The shooting prompted Temple Police officers, the SWAT team and Bell County constables to set up a perimeter and start a search for the suspect. Armed officers patrolled the streets and two Temple schools were placed on soft lockdown.

Lopez-Benitez was discovered hiding in a home in the 900 block of North Eighth Street. When the residence was searched, a gun was found in the attic. Lopez-Benitez told a girl he shot Bryan. The girl wrapped the gun in her sweatshirt and put it in the attic, Powell said.

He surrendered at 11 a.m. and was taken to the Bell County Jail.

Arson, assault charges

An indictment said Lopez-Benitez started a house fire on Nov. 6, 2017, by using an accelerant or ignition device.

Caleb Inman, an arson investigator with Temple Fire & Rescue, testified flames were 10 to 15 feet above the house when firefighters arrived. The main fire was in the back of the house, he said.

A group of teenagers were seen in the area, and Temple Police Department gave Inman the names of five teenagers in the area who might be involved. Lopez-Benitez’s name was on that list.

Multiple house fires in that area stopped when Lopez-Benitez was arrested but, when questioned by Seigman, Inman testified that he had no direct evidence that Lopez-Benitez set the fire even though someone said he did.

Lopez-Benitez was scheduled to plead Tuesday in the alleged Oct. 10 jail assault of Bell County Deputy Isaac Matamoros, a third-degree felony punishable by not less than two years but not more than 10 years in prison. Although some testimony about the assault was provided by Matamoros, that case wasn’t addressed during the sentencing. Bobby Barina will represent Lopez-Benitez on the assault charge filed by the Bell County District Attorney’s office.

Family members testify

Two relatives took the stand to tell how Bryan’s death affected the family.

Tyra Porcher said Bryan loved his siblings, liked barbecue and mowed her grass. She began crying when she saw his picture projected on the screen.

Porcher said Bryan went to school that day but left through the back entrance.

Theresa Juniewicz, a cousin who saw herself as Bryan’s sister, said Bryan was living with her. He’d made promises to stay in school and even had a job set up at a barber shop.

“He had a lot of dreams, things he wanted to try,” Juniewicz said.

The night before he died, Bryan called her and was upset because his girlfriend wasn’t answering the phone. An hour later, he found out she was with Lopez-Benitez, and he got very angry.

Bryan told her Lopez-Benitez had a gun and wanted to shoot him. Juniewicz convinced him it wasn’t worth finding him and convinced Bryan to wait until the next day “before he did anything,” she said. She also said Bryan never said what his plan was.

Juniewicz said Bryan’s mother has unbearable anxiety now and barely sleeps. She also talked about how Bryan’s death affected her two children.

“This opened up everyone’s hearts and minds to see things from different perspectives,” Juniewicz said. “We see other people’s perspectives.”

Lopez-Benitez’s mother testified with the assistance of an interpreter.

She said she left the family when her son was 12 years old, and it was at the age of 13 that he started having lots of problems as he lived with his father. His mother said she felt both boys were at fault, not just her son. She also said she believed her son could be rehabilitated.

Closing arguments

Seigman, the defense attorney, acknowledged that his client needed to be punished, but asked how much. He stressed Lopez-Benitez was 16 at the time he committed murder and was now only 17.

“We can’t expect him to make decisions like an adult. Take that into consideration,” Seigman said.

Jackson stressed Lopez-Benitez’s criminal history and that he’d been given “opportunity after opportunity.” He didn’t follow the rules and committed new offenses, and he didn’t “give a second thought two days before to start a fire.”

Because he pleaded guilty, Lopez-Benitez could have been sentenced to the fullest extent of the law — life in prison or from 5 to 99 years for the murder conviction and from 2 to 20 years for the arson conviction, according to the Texas Penal Code.