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Detective: July murder a botched robbery

LAWRENCEVILLE - A 30-year-old Norcross man's July murder was the result of a botched robbery perpetuated by gang members, a detective testified Tuesday.

Police said Aurelio Vasquez was confronted by two young men and shot once in the head July 22 as he walked home to his Graves Road apartment from a nearby store.

Two witnesses pointed to 17-year-old Pascual Lopez, an illegal Mexican immigrant and known gang member, in photo lineups as one of those assailants, Gwinnett police Detective S.A. LaCosta testified. The second suspect hasn't been caught, she said.

LaCosta said Lopez is an associate of the street gang "MS-13," an El Salvador-based crew widely regarded as the most violent in Gwinnett. She said the teen attempted to rob Vasquez, whom he knew, before the shooting. One witness saw Lopez "tugging on the victim" in the parking lot of Wyncliff Pines Apartments, while another spotted him running through a breezeway with another young Hispanic man, she said.

Neither witness was sure that Lopez was the shooter, LaCosta said. The murder weapon has not been located.

In early August, police serving a warrant on Lopez found MS-13 clothing and a silver medallion in his apartment, which he shared with as many as eight others, LaCosta said. Witnesses told police one attacker wore similar clothing and jewelry.

A Gwinnett Magistrate Court judge bound a murder charge against Lopez to Superior Court during his probable cause hearing. His attorney, Nathan Blau, declined to ask the judge for bond.

Blau argued that witnesses provided police with broad descriptions befitting most of the Hispanic population of Norcross.

"If we go walking down the street today, we'd find hundreds of people with that description," he said.

Blau called two witnesses - one claiming to be Lopez's cousin, the other a boyhood friend from Mexico - who testified they thought Lopez was elsewhere the night of the murder.