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Orchard worker held in killing

Tue., Sept. 25, 2007

An orchard worker has been arrested in connection with the apparent beating death of an unidentified man whose body was found in a blood-spattered van Sept. 15 in Grant County.

Royal City resident Felix Cortez Lopez, 20, was charged with first-degree murder Monday, after police tracked him to an apartment last week in Mount Vernon, a city in the northwest corner of Washington. Cortez Lopez, whose bail was set at $1 million, is expected to enter a plea Oct. 1 in Grant County Superior Court, said Deputy Prosecutor Ed Owens.

Police believe Margarito Torres Lopez, 27, also was at the murder scene, said Chief Criminal Deputy John Turley, of the Grant County Sheriff’s Office. Torres Lopez is still at large and has a warrant out for his arrest.

“At this point, I believe the warrant is still good for material witness, and depending on what (investigators) know now, he could be charged with accessory” to murder, Turley said. “To what extent he participated, that’s still unknown.”

Luz Manuel Flores Ramirez, 26, who works at the same orchard as the suspects, gave police information on Cortez Lopez and Torres Lopez. Flores Ramirez was kept in jail while authorities traveled to Mount Vernon to ensure he did not warn the other suspects, Turley said.

The case is complicated by the fact that the suspects and Ramirez are Mexican nationals, because often their identification documents are falsified, Turley said.

On Sept. 15, a hunter came across a Mazda van outside Royal City and alerted a patrolling police officer. The officer found a man’s body in the van.

Grant County Coroner Jerry Jasman said last week that he was unable to identify the man during an autopsy, but the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.


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