Marion M. Lopez was picked up on a warrant sweep on February 23, 2011, and found herself in Las Colinas women’s detention facility in Santee. It was the 42-year-old’s third time in jail. On the morning of February 25, she phoned her boyfriend, Lee Edward Amesquita, and told him how sick she was.
Lopez was counting on her boyfriend to send her something to make her feel better.
Lopez’s phone calls from jail, which were recorded, were later reviewed by Oceanside police detective John McKean, who was listening to jailhouse calls in an effort to track down a missing gun.
McKean knew Amesquita to be a documented member of Carlos Malos, the one gang that claims Carlsbad. When he heard Lopez complaining of sickness, he assumed she was suffering from drug withdrawal.
McKean heard Lopez demand that her boyfriend “Write me!” And then she pleaded, “Please, please, write me.”
Lopez reminded Amesquita, “I took care of you when you were in; you need to take care of me while I am in.”
Amesquita, 36, knew about being in custody. In 1997, he was convicted of theft. In 1999, he went to prison for drug possession. In 2000, it was robbery. In 2005, he was arrested three times — drug charges, a DUI, and another petty theft. In 2009, he was convicted of carrying a concealed switchblade. In April 2010, he was held briefly for possession of cocaine.
Lopez made a plea deal dated March 4 in which she pled guilty to stealing jewelry from a woman whose house she cleaned. Lopez was sentenced to 120 days in jail, and as part of the deal, she agreed to pay restitution in monthly installments of $75.
Stuck in Las Colinas, Lopez was desperate for mail and phoned her boyfriend often. On March 13, she phoned Amesquita and asked if “Carlos” had written to her. Amesquita told her, “Not till later today. I’m waiting on someone.”
Five days later, Lopez again phoned Amesquita and asked for mail. She pleaded, “I did it for you!”
Amesquita answered, “I know you did.”
Lopez persisted, saying, “Remember what it felt like?” Lopez called later that same day. Amesquita told her he would write in half an hour. Lopez responded, “Okay, don’t let me down.”
On March 20, Lopez interrupted a phone call another woman was making from the jail and told the person on the other end to contact Amesquita and tell him she wanted that Valentine card she never got.
After he started listening to the recorded calls, Detective McKean went through a “bucket” of mail at Las Colinas. On April 8, he found one envelope addressed to Marion Mechelle Lopez. Inside was a greeting card.
The card showed a photo of two geese, one walking behind the other. On the front, it read, “I’ll follow you anywhere.” Inside, it said, “The view from behind is great.” A handwritten note included the words, “I know the view part is for sure. Hope you like it!!” And the card was signed “tu amigo siempre, Carlitos.”
The card felt unnaturally heavy. Upon examination, McKean discovered that two identical greeting cards had been glued together. Between the two cards, “I found a useable amount of heroin,” he said. The dark, flaky substance was ironed between sheets of baker’s parchment paper. The heroin weighed .07 grams.
Detective McKean looked at the return address on the envelope. The name was “Carlitos M.” McKean knew that as an alias for the Carlos Malos gang. The address was 313 Harding Street, Carlsbad, which did not exist. McKean knew the letters 3 and 13 were gang code for the 3rd and 13th letters of the alphabet, C and M. Both the letters and numbers are common graffiti and tattoos for the Carlos Malos.
In mid-April, Lopez was released from custody. On April 24, she made a phone call to a friend in jail named Jill. She told the friend, “You should get some mail today.” Lopez said, “You should have some fun before you go into the drug program.” And Lopez promised to write again.
The next day, deputies confiscated Jill’s mail. They found a doubled-up geese greeting card with .17 grams of heroin inside. Shortly thereafter, Lopez was at Amesquita’s home when a parole agent came to do an inspection. The agent noticed a pair of geese greeting cards on a writing desk.
On June 22, Lopez was arrested for “distribution of illicit drugs while in a detention facility.” She was held one day at Las Colinas, then moved to the Vista Detention Facility.
When she arrived, Lopez made normal jailhouse courtesies; she went around the common area and shook hands with the other inmates. Then she was shown to cell number 13.
About 10:00 p.m., deputies noticed that the door to Lopez’s cell was ajar, unusual because inmates normally close their cell doors at lights-out. A deputy went to check on her. He shook her and rolled her over “and found that she was not breathing.”
At 4:00 the next morning, an investigator from the medical examiner’s office found that Lopez was still “warm to the touch” and that “no trauma was noted to her body.” An autopsy determined that Lopez had died of respiratory failure due to heroin withdrawal.
A toxicology report showed Lopez had amphetamines, methadone, methamphetamine, opiates, and cannabinoids in her system. She also had hepatitis C.