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Judge sets no bail for Lompoc man who fled to Mexico after death of soldier

Judge sets no bail for Lompoc man who fled to Mexico after death of soldier

  • Updated

A Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered no bail for a Lompoc man suspected in the shooting death of a U.S. Army soldier who evaded capture for six to eight months in Mexico before his arrest in Santa Maria.

Walter Morales, 26, an alleged gang member, is charged with first-degree murder and several enhancements in connection to the killing of Marlon Brumfield, 22, an active duty soldier who was visiting home while on leave from Germany. 

Morales is also suspected in two shooting incidents in Lompoc on July 11 and has yet to be charged. 

He did not enter a plea or appear in court Tuesday, either on video or in person, due to unspecified medical reasons after being quarantined in a negative pressure housing area at the Santa Barbara County Main Jail following his arrest Friday. 

Lompoc man charged in soldier's 2019 death

When queried about whether Morales had contracted COVID-19, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said the department does not disclose coronavirus information specific to individual inmates. 

During the hearing Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen heard arguments from attorneys, who appeared via video conference in a Santa Maria courtroom, which had limited seating and required masks for spectators due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Deputy District Attorney Scott Donahue requested no bail for Morales due to past weapons- and domestic violence-related charges, citing his escape to Mexico after the shooting and calling him a flight risk. 

Donahue also referred to the autopsy report, which documents that Brumfield had been shot four times, claiming that evidence indicates Morales was the triggerman. 

"They just shot him in the head for no reason and left him on the sidewalk," Donahue said. "We have an individual [capable] of great violence and has every intention of fleeing again." 

Dillon Forsyth, who was appointed as Morales' attorney, said his client should have bail set according to the schedule for non-capital crimes, arguing that he was in no position to respond to Donahue's request due to a lack of information, including a police report. 

After ordering no bail, the judge continued the arraignment. Morales is set to appear remotely from the Santa Barbara County Jail on July 28 for a hearing that will be held in Superior Court in Lompoc.

Santa Maria Police and Santa Barbara County sheriff's officers, including SWAT team members, arrested Morales, who surrendered shortly after 7 p.m. on Friday following a nearly seven-hour standoff at a residence in the 1500 block of South Thornburg Street.  

Morales was arrested nearly a year after the killing of Brumfield, who was shot near the intersection of North A Street and East Ocean Avenue in Lompoc, according to Donahue. 

A second suspect, 25-year-old Francisco Gutierrez-Ortega, turned himself over to Santa Maria Police at the urging of his family more than a week after the shooting, Lompoc Police said. 

Gutierrez-Ortega was charged with first-degree murder for the benefit of a street gang in September 2019 and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Santa Maria court on July 31. He pleaded not guilty. 

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