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3 rural Manteca murder suspects may not go on trial until June 9

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POSTED December 13, 2013 12:57 a.m.

The three men being charged with the murder of a 51-year-old Manteca father after an argument at a rural bar won’t see their case go to trial for another six months.

Michael Roessler, 23, Justin Wilson 22, and Christopher Oliver, 36, aren’t scheduled to be back before judge Bernard J. Garber until June 9 of 2014 – the date that prosecutor Janet Smith says the trial for the murder of Michael Lawrence will formally begin.

If nothing changes between now and when the trial date arrives – if no plea deal is reached with any of the suspects, or if none of them agree to testify against the others in exchange for a reduced sentence – then the court proceedings will begin. It would be just two weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of Lawrence’s death outside of the Weatherbee Lake home that he rented for his family in rural Manteca.

“What will happen now is that any motions that the other counsel want to file will be submitted – if they want to challenge any evidence or anything like that those motions will come between now and the next court date,” Smith said. “Ultimately those will determine how many of the suspects will go to trial at the same time and then we’ll pick a jury and put evidence on.

“There’s always something ongoing – a lot of things will be happening between now and then. We just have to wait and see what comes next.”

The investigation into the matter is still ongoing – Smith said that gathering both DNA and ballistics evidence takes a prolonged amount of time – and the picture painted by witnesses that were at the scene hasn’t been completely clear. But officials believe that a dispute outside of The Islander Tavern – tucked back in a corner along a stretch South Woodward Avenue where it bends back into a rural trailer park and a quiet residential community – led at least two of the suspects, believed to be Roessler and Oliver, to go out looking for him.

An argument outside of Lawrence’s home ended in gunfire, and two people were shot – Lawrence, who was killed when a bullet struck him in the head, and Oliver, who was struck in the hand and the stomach.

Roessler was initially pegged by witnesses as the gunman, and whether he accidentally shot Oliver during the exchange or if bullets were being traded will likely be determined when a ballistics evidence report comes back.

What happened next remains hazy. Roessler fled the scene on his motorcycle, and ended up crashing on McKinley Avenue and had to be hospitalized because of his injuries. At least one other man – 21-year-old Fernando Delgado – figured into the mix, and authorities believe he was contacted after the incident and was the person who transported Oliver to the hospital for his injuries. Both Roessler and Oliver were arrested immediately after being released and were charged with Lawrence’s murder.

Wilson was also arrested the same night on weapons charges, but was released. He was eventually re-arrested by Manteca Police and charged with Lawrence’s murder.

Of the four men that were arrested, Delgado is the only one that’s currently not confined to the San Joaquin County Jail. Both Roessler and Wilson are being held without bail, and Oliver’s bail has been set at $2.5 million.

The San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Department has been heading up the investigation since the crime took place just outside of Manteca’s city limits.

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