The lead police investigator in the September 2019 Lompoc shooting death of an active-duty Army soldier testified in court Friday, recalling an interview in which he said a suspect pointed to the co-defendant as the triggerman in the case.
Officer Michael Miller, a detective with the Lompoc Police Department, recalled interviews with Francisco Gutierrez-Ortega, of Santa Maria, after he turned himself in more than a week after the shooting death of 22-year-old Marlon Brumfield on Sept. 8, 2019. who was home on leave from Germany.
Gutierrez-Ortega was the driver in the getaway vehicle in the incident and named his passenger, 27-year-old Walter Morales, as the person who shot at Brumfield before both suspects fled the scene, according to Miller.
Morales was charged with Brumfield's murder and also faces four sentencing enhancements, including causing great bodily injury and committing the shooting for the benefit of a gang.
A Santa Maria man has pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of Army soldier Marlon Brumfield in September 2019.
Morales received three additional charges, including attempted murder, shooting at a dwelling, assault with a deadly weapon and an enhancement of using a firearm from a separate incident in which he allegedly shot at an occupied vehicle in the 1000 block of West Olive Street July 11, 2020.
Morales had allegedly fled to Mexico following Brumfield's death and was arrested by SWAT officers July 17, 2020 in the 1500 block of South Thornburg Street in Santa Maria after nearly a year on the run.
Morales’ preliminary hearing began Thursday in Lompoc Superior Court and continued for a second day on Friday. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The hearing is tentatively expected to last until Oct. 8, according to Deputy District Attorney Scott Donahue, who is prosecuting the case.
Both the families for Brumfield and Morales were in attendance during the hearing, but sat on opposite sides of the court.
Co-defendant Gutierrez-Ortega pleaded no contest on Oct. 9, 2020, to the charge in the killing of Brumfield, 22, of Lompoc, according to Santa Barbara County Superior Court records.
Miller testified that he and Lompoc Police Sgt. Agustin Arias interviewed Gutierrez-Ortega at the local jail after picking him up from the Santa Maria Police Department, where he turned himself in to detectives.
At first, Gutierrez-Ortega refused to talk to police, but changed his mind, according to Miller.
Miller said that during the interviews on Sept. 17, 2019, and Oct. 7, 2019, Gutierrez-Ortega told detectives how he met Morales and what he allegedly witnessed when Brumfield was killed.
Through his brother, Gutierrez-Ortega became acquainted with Morales, who drove up to Santa Maria and the two went back to Lompoc, according to Miller.
After knowing him for awhile, Morales allegedly told his co-defendant that he was “Smiley” from the VLP gang in Lompoc while Gutierrez-Ortega admitted to being an inactive West Park gang member but “in good standing,” Miller added.
A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered no bail and continued the arraignment for a Lompoc man suspected in the shooting death of a U.S. Army soldier in September 2019.
They went to Morales’ relative’s house and drank beer before going to DJ’s Saloon and drank more before leaving when the bar closed.
As the two got back into their vehicle, Morales allegedly heard someone say “suwohoop,” believing that it was a call-out from two individuals walking nearby that he believed were associated with the Bloods street gang, according to Miller.
Morales instructed Gutierrez-Ortega to pull up next to the two people walking, and the car drove into the oncoming traffic lane and next to the curb near the intersection of A Street and Ocean Avenue, where Brumfield was walking with his friend at about 2 a.m.
After noticing that the two men did not appear to be in a gang, Gutierrez-Ortega attempted to convey that information to Morales, who almost immediately pulled out a .357 revolver and fired four shots through the window across the driver’s face towards Brumfield before the Mustang sped away, according to Miller.
Brumfield told his friend that he was shot and stumbled into the street, where he collapsed, Miller testified.
When Gutierrez-Ortega asked why Morales shot at Brumfield, Morales allegedly said “I don’t care, I’m a killer,” Miller testified.
“[Gutierrez-Ortega] felt bad about what happened,” Miller said.
Gretchen Gaspari and Darren Ritchie, Morales’ defense attorneys, questioned Miller over his experience handling a female confidential witness who provided information about the shooting while she was intoxicated and his experience as a lead investigator in homicide cases.
During Gaspari's questioning, Miller said that the confidential witness maintained her story multiple times that Gutierrez-Ortega was the shooter until May of this year.
Miller, a Lompoc Police detective who investigates crimes against children, said this is his first time as a lead investigator in a homicide and was assigned to the Brumfield case due to his department’s heavy caseload investigating other killings that year.
“Unfortunately we’ve all had to become the primary [investigator] on a homicide case,” Miller said.
The preliminary hearing continues Monday morning in Superior Court.
Photos: Lompoc community members march, rally in honor of slain soldier
Several hundred Lompoc community members marched three blocks Friday evening from the scene where Marlon Brumfield was shot just 12 days earlier to Lompoc City Hall, where they staged a peaceful rally to remember and honor the fallen Army soldier and call for unity and change within the community. Brumfield, who was visiting home from his Army station in Germany, was shot and killed in the early morning of Sept. 8 while walking along North A Street near Ocean Avenue.