The last words her son said as he hugged her were, “Bye Mom, I love you.”
The next day, Paula Rodriguez believes God turned her away and stopped her from entering her son’s house when he didn’t answer the door.
“I believe the Lord stopped me from going in and finding my son riddled with bullets,” she said during a hearing Thursday for her son’s killer.
Lorenzo Chavez, 58, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He will serve a 13-year sentence — 15-years with two suspended — for shooting and killing 47-year-old Daniel Jose Lopez some 11 years ago.
District Attorney Matt Chandler said the state was prepared to show that Chavez shot Lopez because he embarrassed him.
Police responded to a shots-fired call in the 1100 block of Ross Street around 2 a.m. on Sept. 15, 1998, but couldn’t pinpoint the origin of the shots. Later that morning, a neighbor discovered Lopez’ body inside his home at 1108 Ross Street.
Chandler told Judge Robert Orlik that prior to the shooting Chavez had passed out on Lopez’ couch, high on heroin.
Lopez woke him and told him to leave, slapping him and causing him to urinate himself, “and for that he took Lopez’ life,” Chandler said.
Chavez, already serving a nine-year sentence for receiving a stolen vehicle, was arrested for the shooting in December 2007 after witnesses came forward.
Chandler said he was seen entering Lopez’ house in the early morning hours and several shots were heard. Other witnesses also said he bragged later about getting away with murder.
Chavez is a twice-convicted killer. He returned to Clovis in the late 1990s after serving more than 20 years in prison for the 1972 stabbing death of a Cannon Air Force Base airman and the 1981 death of a fellow inmate during prison riots.
Describing her son as a loving father, grandfather and family man who had a special place in his heart for children, Rodriguez told the crowded courtroom the pain of his death lingers still.
“When I think of the fear that my son must have felt when Lorenzo Chavez pointed a gun at him, I feel the same fear,” she said.
The day his body was discovered, Rodriguez said she had stopped by his house on her way to Lubbock but left when he didn’t answer the door.
Later when she received the news of his death, she went to the scene, she said, describing the crime scene tape and police officers everywhere.
“I remember saying ‘that is my son, I have to go in’,” she said.
“I didn’t even get to identify him.”
Over the months and years that followed, Rodriguez said she would wander in a haze of grief, and “I would end up at the cemetery, sitting on the ground and trying to be close to my son.”
She also frequently would find herself at the police department, looking for answers.
“(Police officer) David Loera, he promised me he would charge Lorenzo Chavez. Thank you David,” she said.
“I’m sure he will get his turn. God has a place for those who do not keep his commandments.”