Charges filed in deadly home invasion case


Officials describe the murder of Russell Lopez in violent details, saying he was beaten to death with a hammer while his own children were in the house on December 20. The woman involved in Lopez's attack is behind bars, but two men are still on the loose.

On the front door of what had been the Lopez family home is a sign; a farewell message from friends to a neighbor killed in his house nine days ago. Two young children inside were tied up by intruders and the neighborhood hasn't been the same since.

"It's like really shocking, really sad. I never expected it," said neighbor Vivian Padron.

Now one of three people charged is in custody and in jail. Amber Thornton, 22, appeared in probable cause court Thursday morning.

"Miss Thornton... you are charged with capital murder," said the judge.

It was not, county detectives believe, a random robbery. According to a court document, Thornton says she and two others -- Tony Escobar and Joseph Facundo -- went to buy drugs from Lopez. The probable cause warrant states that Lopez's wife suspected he might have sold drugs, but never saw it.

Court documents go on to say that Thornton saw Facundo hit Lopez in the head with a hammer while Escobar tied Lopez's young son and niece to a bed, saying they were playing cops and robbers.

Investigators say Thornton told them she held Lopez's infant daughter while the house was ransacked. She saw the two teens load various pieces of property into Lopez's SUV and they fled the scene in the vehicle, which was later recovered two days after the murder in a nearby body of water on Morton View Dr.

Thornton told police Facundo and Escobar paid her money and told her "not to say anything."

According to the document, Lopez kept his drugs hidden in a false bottom in a kitchen cabinet -- a secret he kept from his family and his neighbors, and one that eventually cost him his life.

"We miss him and I feel bad for the kid cause he'd always knock on my door and see if I could come out," said young neighbor Irvin Chagoya.

Thornton is being held in Harris County Jail. No bond has been set.

Facundo, 18, and Escobar, 17, are also charged with capital murder, but they are still at large.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Facundo and Escobar is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS (8477).

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