Manslaughter plea sends Medford man to prison

Attacker under influence of meth when he stomped man to death in November

A former homeless Medford man once lauded for helping others break away from the streets will spend more than six years in prison for punching and stomping a tenant to death during a methamphetamine-fueled attack last year.

John Troy Lopes, 51, was sentenced Friday to the mandatory minimum of 75 months in prison for his guilty plea to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the beating death of Charles Ward Puzak.

As part of Lopes' plea agreement, prosecutors agreed Friday to drop a more serious charge of first-degree manslaughter as well as two felony assault charges for which Lopes was indicted in November.

Had Lopes been convicted on the first-degree manslaughter charge, the mandatory minimum under Oregon sentencing law would have been 10 years in prison.

A visibly anguished Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia said in court that the litany of defendants in his courtroom whose methamphetamine-related violence ends up harming people "is getting to me."

"This is so tragic," Mejia told Lopes. "Again, it's methamphetamine resulting in violence, violence that results in the death of a human being. I have no options, so I will sentence you."

The 61-year-old Puzak was one of several people with whom Lopes shared his house in the 2300 block of Howard Avenue, authorities said. The pair had drank several beers and Lopes had used methamphetamine before they got into an early-morning fight Sept. 15 over the way Puzak spoke to Lopes' girlfriend, according to Medford police.

"We had a disagreement about how he was handling himself in my home," Lopes told Mejia in court.

Witnesses told police that Lopes attacked Puzak, punching and kicking him 10 to 15 times each before dragging him outside and stomping him on a curb, police said.

"Methamphetamine and alcohol were both involved and, I think, fueled his behavior," defense attorney Donald Scales told Mejia in court.

Puzak never fought back and was conscious when police arrived. He was even conscious when he was getting treatment at Rogue Regional Medical Center, where doctors diagnosed Puzak with a traumatic cranial hemorrhage.

Lopes was arrested at the scene and a grand jury indicted Lopes on felony assault charges two days later.

Puzak's condition deteriorated over time and he died Oct. 10. A subsequent autopsy ruled his death a homicide, and Lopes was later indicted on the manslaughter charges.

Scales said in court that his own forensics expert reviewed Puzak's medical records and agreed that his injuries suffered at the hands and feet of Lopes likely led to his death.

Since his arrest, Lopes has been lodged in the Jackson County Jail, having never raised the $50,000 bail required for his release.

Lopes was homeless when he first began using a Central Point shelter in 2009. Shelter workers said once he got on his own feet and rented his own house, he regularly opened it to as many as 10 homeless people at a time. He even gave lifesaving CPR to a homeless man at the shelter in January 2013, a shelter manager told the Mail Tribune in November.

"He charges nominal rent," Scales said in court. "He basically gave them a place to stay."

A carpenter by trade, Lopes had no criminal history in Oregon until August 2012, when he pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of methamphetamine, court records show.

No members of the general public were present in the gallery during the 10-minute hearing.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.


Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.
COUPON OF THE WEEK