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3rd suspect in rural Manteca murder goes to trial in March
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The third and final suspect in the shooting of 53-year-old Michael Lawrence in front of his home rural Manteca during the summer of 2013 isn’t expected to appear before a jury until March.

Christopher Oliver, 37, has been moving through the San Joaquin County court system apart from the other two men that were being charged with Lawrence’s murder – 25-year-old Michael Roessler and 23-year-old Justin Wilson – after his legal counsel requested to be relieved shortly before his trial was about to begin.

According to prosecuting assistant district attorney Janet Smith, her objection to his departure and the delay in trying Oliver was overruled by the judge.

“Apparently his new counsel needed time to get familiar with the case and the evidence,” Smith said. “I objected and the judge decided the go the other way and it was extended out for a period of time.”

Just two weeks ago a jury found Roessler guilty of second-degree murder for Lawrence’s death – a shooting that stemmed from an incident outside of The Islander Tavern on S. Woodward Road. According to court testimony, Roessler was part of a group that made a comment to Lawrence when he rode up to the bar on a dirt bike to buy ice and beer for a party he was having at his house. The two had words and, according to Smith’s words to the jury, the incident ended with a handshake.

But roughly an hour later Oliver and Roessler – who jumped on Wilson’s motorcycle – rode out in Lawrence’s direction and discovered that he had gone back to a party. The pair started spinning donuts in the street and another altercation occurred. At some point Roessler allegedly drew a handgun and fired at Lawrence – killing him instantly with a shot to the head. Oliver was also shot during the melee with a bullet to the hand and stomach, and Roessler was injured and hospitalized when he crashed his motorcycle as he was trying to flee.

Wilson was picked up that night for possession of brass knuckles but released by officers. He was rearrested several days later and charged with murder, but the same jury that convicted Roessler found that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that Wilson was directly responsible for the Lawrence’s death. He was found guilty of possession of brass knuckles – which is a felony in California.

According to Smith, whether the case goes to trial or whether Oliver is willing to negotiate towards a plea will ultimately be up to him at this point. While testifying against the other suspects is now out of the question thanks to the returned verdict, stepping forward and working towards an agreement isn’t, she said, out of the question.

“Ultimately, as a defendant, he has the right to a jury trial if he wants one and that’s the posture that we’re in right now,” she said. “Right now that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to wait and see about.”

Wilson is currently set to be sentenced on Dec. 5 while Roessler is set to be sentenced on Dec. 29. Both will remain in custody at the San Joaquin County Jail until that time.

Oliver will appear in Department 23 of the San Joaquin Superior Court in Stockton on March 30 at 9 a.m.