SAN JACINTO COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Francisco Oropeza, the man accused of killing five of his neighbors in San Jacinto County, appeared in court to meet with a judge for the first time on Thursday, nearly two weeks following the shooting.
Flanked by deputies and the sheriff, Oropeza was handcuffed and dressed in a striped jail uniform. He was silent while walking to the courthouse and did not speak once inside.
Oropeza was arrested on May 2 after a massive manhunt. The 38-year-old has been behind bars for about two weeks on a $7.5 million bond.
He walked into the courthouse at about 8:30 a.m. as deputies with rifles stood guard inside and outside.
The 38-year-old is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, one charge for each victim he is accused of fatally shooting.
Oropeza's attorney, Anthony Osso, is a high-profile defense attorney. He was at Harris County Court Wednesday representing Theresa Balboa as she took a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty in the murder of 5-year-old Samuel Olson.
Osso is experienced with death penalty cases and said he fully expects the district attorney's office to upgrade charges to capital murder.
San Jacinto County District Attorney Todd Dillon also expects the charges to be upgraded when the case goes before a grand jury, considering aggravating factors such as the number of victims involved and a child being killed.
After the hearing, Osso worked to undermine surviving victim Wilson Garcia's account of the incident that Oropeza murdered his family after he asked him to stop shooting his AR-15 rifle near his sleeping newborn's room.
"We're learning a lot more every day about that evening, and the initial story about asking him not to shoot his gun in the backyard because a baby was sleeping is probably not going to be proved accurate," Osso said.
When asked what happened, Osso replied, "No, thank you for asking."
Osso painted the two families as friends recently feuding over livestock.
Dillon also spoke, acknowledging how costly it is to try a death penalty case, especially in a smaller county like San Jacinto.
"Doing what's right is rarely the cheapest option, but that's one of the reasons that we're going to maintain an open dialogue with Mr. Oropeza's legal team. If there is mitigation evidence that suggests that we need to go a different route, that's something we could certainly look into," Dillon said.
Oropeza's next court date is set for Aug. 10.
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Two other arrests followed Oropeza's. His partner, Divimara Lamar Nava, was charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon. Dillon said she was at the scene when Oropeza was arrested and is accused of helping him.
Domingo Castilla, one of the suspect's friends, was also arrested on a possession of marijuana charge. He is accused of helping Oropeza flee the neighborhood where the crime occurred and was later charged with alien in possession of a firearm and the hindering apprehension of a fugitive.
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