The man accused of murdering five of his neighbors in San Jacinto County returned to court Thursday morning and formally entered a plea of not guilty.
The 39-year-old suspect, Francisco Oropeza, is charged in the April murder of 9-year-old Daniel Enrique Lazo Guzmán, 21-year-old Diana Velasquez Alvarado, 31-year-old Obdulia Molina Rivera, 25-year-old Sonia Argentina Guzmán Taibot, and 18-year-old Josué Jonatan Cáceres.
News cameras captured Oropeza Thursday as he was being escorted from the courthouse under heavy security.
The shooting happened in the rural town of Cleveland, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Houston, on April 28.
Oropeza allegedly stormed into his neighbor’s house that day after being asked by them to stop firing his AR-style rifle because a baby was trying to sleep. All five victims were from Honduras, including the 9-year-old boy.
Police say Oropeza fled the neighborhood after the shooting, setting off a widening manhunt that came up empty for days despite more than 250 officers, drones, and scent-tracking dogs searching and $80,000 in reward money being offered.
Oropeza was eventually arrested near Conroe, roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the home where the shooting took place.
Oropeza’s lawyers say there’s a lot more to this case and hope to use that information to avoid a trial.
His lawyers claim that Oropeza wasn’t just asked to stay quiet because the baby was sleeping but rather tormented and screamed at by one of the victims.
The defense attorneys added there was bad blood between the families in the past – with one instance where the victims’ family dog allegedly killed Oropeza’s chickens.
Questions arose about the increased security at the courthouse, but prosecutors responded there were no threats and they were just being vigilant. The victims’ families also attended the hearing.
Defense attorneys also said the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office’s response time would be integral in the case. The sheriff said his deputies arrived in 11 minutes, but an Associated Press investigation revealed it actually took them over 40 minutes to arrive.
Oropeza’s next court hearing date is Dec. 7.