A Columbia County magistrate judge ruled Tuesday that three men charged in a fatal home invasion last month must proceed to prosecution in Superior Court.
The men, along with another man killed during the Feb. 29 attempt to rob a Martinez apartment, targeted resident Bruce Barrett because they believed he had cash for buying video games, police said.
Authorities say Barrett’s 15-year-old son twice shot intruder Justin Anthony Stephens, 19, as he and Leonard Jamal Walton, 18, forced their way into the Cedar Lane apartment and struggled with his father.
Stephens and Walton targeted Barrett “because he bought computer games and electronics from people,” Columbia County sheriff’s Investigator James Edmunds said during the preliminary hearing for Jose Lopez-Gamero and Edward Albert Brown III. He said Barrett previously purchased items from Stephens and Walton.
At the hearing, Chief Magistrate Judge Bobby Christine said enough evidence existed against Lopez-Gamero, 21, and Brown, 19, to proceed with prosecution in Superior Court.
The two men reportedly acted as getaway driver and lookout for Stephens and Walton.
About 7:30 p.m. the night of the home invasion, Barrett told police, he heard a knock on the door. When he answered, Stephens and Walton, wearing masks, forced their way in.
Barrett’s son saw the struggle and got his father’s rifle from a bedroom.
After yelling at the men to leave, the boy fired two shots. Both bullets hit Stephens, who died just outside the apartment door.
Authorities say Walton ran away. After the shots, Brown got into a car driven by Lopez-Gamero and they went to a nearby convenience store. Walton ran out of the woods near the apartment and joined them. Edmunds said authorities found a mask and gloves in the woods and are awaiting the results of a DNA test.
All three were interviewed in the days after the robbery attempt. Lopez-Gamero and Brown admitted their roles in the home invasion, but Walton denied any involvement, Edmunds said. All three men were charged with burglary and criminal attempt to commit a felony. Brown and Walton also were charged with simple battery.
At the hearing, attorneys for Brown and Lopez-Gamero requested bond. Christine denied the request. All three men are being held in the Columbia County Detention Center.