Conviction stands for drug dealer’s enforcer who drove man from Houston to Starks, killed him, left body in woods

Published 4:50 pm Monday, May 8, 2023

A debt collector for a high-level drug dealer who drove a 22-year-old man from Houston to Southwest Louisiana, killed him and then left his body in a rural area near Starks will continue to serve the 60-year sentence he received.

Jason Lee Lopez was convicted last year in the 2017 shooting death of Dustin Hammons. He was sentenced to 40 years at hard labor for manslaughter and 20 years at hard labor for racketeering. The sentences are to run consecutively and without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentences.

At the time of Hammons’ death, Lopez — also known as “Kasper” — was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and was assigned to assist Boyd Hagood in his methamphetamine operation in and around Houston. Lopez served as an enforcer and a debt collector for Hagood. Hammons was a drug runner for Hagood.

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Ashlyn Brown, a roommate of Hagood and Hammons, testified that Hammons was suspected of stealing Hagood’s car at the time of his death. She said on Aug. 1, 2017, she, Lopez, Hammons and Hagood traveled from Texas to Louisiana to collect money. During the trip, she said tensions escalated after Lopez hit Hammons and took his phone from him.

At one point, Hammons tried to run away on foot during a stop, Brown said. He was subdued and put back in the car.

Brown said that after returning to the car, Hammons begged for his life and asked not to be killed. She also testified she saw Lopez make Hammons hold his hand and said, “You’re my bitch.”

Brown said eventually the vehicle stopped in a wooded area, and Hagood and Lopez got out and walked Hammons into the woods. She said Hammons was forced to remove his shirt and consume drugs before Hagood and Lopez shot him multiple times.

Brown said she heard Hammons screaming out, “I’m still alive,” followed by a second series of gunshots. She testified Hagood and Lopez returned to the vehicle without Hammons.

The body of Hammons was discovered the next day by members of a Calcasieu Parish crew sent to mow the area. An autopsy revealed he suffered 10 gunshot wounds, bruises and scrapes.

Lopez appealed his conviction, alleging the prosecution failed to prove he would have committed or would have planned to commit any future crimes in Louisiana, thereby not proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of racketeering. He also claimed his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him was violated when the prosecution asked substantive questions of Hagood, who invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. He also insisted his sentence was excessive.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Lopez’s racketeering conviction, stating evidence “clearly showed” Lopez was associated with an enterprise, namely the ABT — which, the court cited, was established by witnesses’ testimony and Lopez’s own admission.

Lopez “acknowledged that he was a part of the ABT and worked with Hagood in a methamphetamine operation for the benefit of Hagood and the ABT.”

The court said the prosecution also established “the required elements for second-degree kidnapping since Hammons was brought into Louisiana, made to get out of the car, and shot repeatedly.”

“The final requirement is that the two incidents of racketeering activity must be interrelated, involve similar intents, methods of commission, victims, principals, or otherwise be interrelated,” the court wrote. “In the instant case, there was evidence that Hammons was directly involved in the drug distribution operation and either stole drugs and other items from Hagood or became aware of certain activities involving the disappearance of another drug runner who allegedly stole drugs. Hagood believed his drug operation was impacted or compromised because of Hammons’ actions, so Hagood and Lopez responded by kidnapping and killing him. These instances of racketeering activity are not isolated instances but rather are related and a cause and effect of each other.”

The court stated Lopez’s assignment of error is without merit because the commission or intent to commit “future crime” in a specific location is not an element of the crime of racketeering.

Lopez also argued the prosecution knew Hagood — who was offered immunity to testify — would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights but still persisted to question him. Because of this, Lopez said his counsel was forced to attempt to engage in substantive questioning to try to undo the harm caused by the prosecution’s questioning. Lopez claimed that since his right to confront the witnesses was violated, his convictions and sentences must be reversed and vacated.

The appeals court disagreed, stating “the record shows that Mr. Hagood refused to answer any question by either side, resulting in findings of contempt of court and a jail sentence. Mr. Hagood never invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in the presence of the jury; instead, he simply refused to answer any question asked by either side.

“The state was put on notice at a pre-trial hearing that Hagood indicated he would refuse to answer questions, but the district attorney did not believe that Hagood could assert the privilege in light of the immunity,” the court ruled. “Thus, there is no evidence that the district attorney acted improperly. Furthermore, Hagood’s refusal to testify did not unfairly prejudice Lopez nor did it add critical weight to the state’s case.”

The court also denied Lopez’s claim of excessive sentence.

“There is no doubt that Lopez was convicted of a cruel act,” the court wrote. “During sentencing, the trial court stressed that the killing of Hammons was a cowardly, brutal, and senseless act. The trial testimony revealed that Hammons screamed he was still alive, but the men went back and fired more rounds to finish him off.”

On top of a previous felony conviction in Texas, “the trial court found that the public needed to be protected from Lopez, and we agree,” the court ruled.