San Diego County Superior Court
The San Diego County Superior Court in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A man who allegedly struck his neighbor in the head with a mallet at a Rolando-area apartment complex, leading to the victim’s death nearly four years later, was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on a murder charge.

Manuel Lopez, 43, was arrested Sept. 3, 2020, on suspicion of murdering Allen Stokes, who was 72 when he died in late 2019, according to the San Diego Police Department.

At about 2:30 a.m. on March 12, 2016, Stokes was found unconscious and suffering from head trauma at a residential complex in the 7100 block of El Cajon Boulevard, where Stokes and Lopez both lived.

Stokes remained hospitalized in a conscious, but unresponsive state until his death on Nov. 8, 2019, Lt. Andra Brown said.

Prosecutors say Lopez struck Stokes with a mallet, which was found wrapped in a towel and discarded inside a bathroom’s trash can near where the victim was found injured.

According to preliminary hearing testimony, a neighbor heard Lopez and Stokes conversing, then heard a thump and found Stokes lying on the ground. That neighbor then saw Lopez emerge from somewhere else in the apartment and say, “The devil made me do it,” according to Deputy District Attorney Mary Naoom.

While Lopez’s DNA was not found on the mallet’s handle, his DNA was discovered on a nearby glove, which the prosecutor alleged Lopez wore while wielding the weapon.

Defense attorney Kara Oien argued there was insufficient evidence to prove that her client was the perpetrator, citing a lack of direct eyewitness accounts to the assault.

She also argued that even if it was believed that Lopez struck Stokes, the evidence did not support that his death was directly caused by the assault that occurred years earlier.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Theodore Weathers ruled the evidence supported that Lopez was the assailant and that his alleged actions led to Stokes’ eventual death from an infection, following nearly four years of being bedridden and unable to care for himself, which placed him at greater risk of developing such infections.

“The only conclusion is that Mr. Stokes passed away certainly as a result of the injuries that he received in March of 2016,” Weathers stated before holding Lopez to answer on the murder count.

Lopez remains in custody in lieu of $3 million bail.