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4 suspects in murder case plead not guilty

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POSTED July 22, 2013 1:05 a.m.

STOCKTON – All four men that prosecutors believe were involved with the murder of a 51-year-old Weatherbee Lake man are maintaining their innocence.

Michael Roessler, 23, Christopher Oliver, 36, Justin Wilson, 22, and Fernando Delgado, 21, entered pleas of not guilty Friday morning when they appeared before San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Franklin Stephenson.

All but Delgado are being charged with the premeditated murder of Michael Lawrence. Initial reports said that Roessler and Oliver had an altercation with Lawrence outside of The Islander Tavern, along Woodward Avenue, and later rode their motorcycles to his house with the intent of starting a fight.

After a brief scuffle, Lawrence was shot twice in the chest and once in the head. Oliver was shot in the hand and in the abdomen during the altercation, and was subsequently arrested when he was discharged from a hospital. Police apprehended Roessler that night after he crashed his motorcycle into a fence on McKinley Avenue, but he wasn’t arrested until he was released from a hospital as well.

Delgado, who is being held on charges of accessory after the fact, is believed to have either driven a car out to The Islander Tavern and switched vehicles with Oliver so he could seek medical treatment or ferried him to the hospital himself.

He was being held at the San Joaquin County Jail on $50,000 bail. As of Friday night, he was no longer in custody.

Deputy district attorney Janet Smith said that because an investigation is ongoing, she is unable to comment on specifics in the case.

“We’re still trying to determine, as best we can, what transpired that night,” she said, “and that involves collecting evidence and statements, and we always learn things that are different as we go.”

Wilson had a complaint of murder filed against him before he was actually in custody. He was arrested the night of the incident for weapons violations, but was eventually released. When Roessler and Oliver appeared in court for the first time there was no record of Wilson actually being held.

He was taken into custody several days later by Manteca Police officers. He has since been charged with the same premeditated murder rap lodged against the other two men – in addition to the original weapons charges and a handful of others.

Roessler is also being charged with illegal possession of a handgun and the use of a handgun in commission of a felony, as well as assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer.

Smith declined to elaborate on the charges that he physically assaulted law enforcement – something that wasn’t originally reported.

Oliver is facing similar weapons charges.

Two of the men have retained private counsel.

All four are expected to appear in court again on Aug. 2 for a preliminary hearing. Stephenson will then determine whether there is enough evidence in the case to move forward to a trial phase.

To contact Jason Campbell, email or call (209) 249-3544.

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