Love triangle murder trial involving two sailors, Navy veteran begins in California

Petty Officer 3rd Class Dylan Poston, right, on flight deck of USS Stockdale in 2015. Poston is charged with the murder of Petty Officer 2nd Class Anderson Lopes Jr. after a fatal 2018 encounter in a California condominium.


By PAULINE REPARD | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: July 25, 2019

EL CAJON, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Petty Officer 2nd Class Anderson Lopes Jr. caught his estranged wife in bed with another man and the fight was on. At the end, one man would lay dying, his killer, a fellow servicemember.

The two men, active-duty Navy at the time last year, grappled in the Lakeside-area condominium living room, smashing into the sofa, a coffee table, a Christmas tree.

Lopes, according to attorneys in El Cajon Superior Court on Wednesday, struck Petty Officer 3rd Class Dylan Poston on the head twice with a short metal rod ripped from a shower caddy.

Poston pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed Lopes repeatedly, fatally wounding him, and even stabbed the woman in her leg as she tried to intervene in the fray.

Poston is charged with murder and using a knife, and faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.

A prosecutor told a jury in his opening trial statements that Poston had plenty of chances to leave peacefully when Lopes ordered him out of the Pinkard Way condo that the estranged couple shared.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney William La Fond said, Poston unfolded his pocket knife and stabbed Lopes five times in the chest, stomach and back and slashed him eight more times.

The 26-year-old’s last words the night of March 6, 2018 were “OK, OK, OK” as he was “literally lying in a pool of his own blood,” La Fond said.

Lopes’ estranged wife, Michelle Tsethlikai, who had left the Navy about two weeks earlier, called 911.

Lopes wasn’t breathing and had no pulse when paramedics got there and rushed him to a hospital, where he was declared dead.

Poston’s attorney, David Shapiro, told jurors his client had no choice but to defend himself when Lopes attacked him. Shapiro said, too, that Lopes was pushing his wife around and Poston didn’t want to leave until he was sure she was all right.

“He had to fight with what he had and with what he knew,” Shapiro said, referring to Poston’s pocket knife and the knowledge that Tsethlikai had told him Lopes had physically abused her before.

Tsethlikai testified she met Lopes when they worked on the same ship in Japan in 2014. They started dating in 2016, had a son that year and married in May 2017. Lopes was deployed a few times and the relationship soured. Tsethlikai filed for divorce November that year.

The estranged couple kept living together out of convenience and to share childcare duties. Tsethlikai said she slept on the downstairs sofa while Lopes and their son used the two upstairs bedrooms.

Meanwhile, Tsethlikai started dating Poston, whom she also met onboard guided missile destroyer Stockdale. A romance developed and Poston went to the Pinkard Way condo several times.

She said she and Poston exchanged texts about him coming over, and Poston once texted that if he and Lopes were there together, “I think it would be a big fight... it could get bad.”

Tsethlikai said she never told Lopes about her boyfriend, but he read some of the texts on her phone. After that, she said, he “grew cold” and had little to do with her.

Poston came to her home March 6, 2018, because they believed Lopes would be on shipboard duty for 24 hours, the prosecutor told jurors. Poston and Tsethlikai were in the master bedroom, asleep, when Lopes returned unexpectedly about 10:30 p.m. He punched Poston several times.

Lopes used expletives when he ordered Poston, then his wife, to get out. Poston was collecting his things downstairs when Lopes pushed his wife twice on the stairs, nearly making her fall, then yanked the short metal bar out of the bathroom.

“The defendant knew if he’d ever be confronted by Mr. Lopes, there would be problems,” La Fond said. “That knife came out of his pocket. Rather than leave the house, he decided to stay in the house and arm himself.”

After the fight, Lopes lay bleeding against a wall. Tsethlikai called 911, then realized Lopes wasn’t breathing. A 911 dispatcher coached her through CPR chest compressions until paramedics got there.

Several Lakeside medics and firefighters testified Wednesday that there was so much blood around Lopes, they knew he could not survive. They performed CPR and other life-saving methods, but Lopes never regained consciousness or breathed on his own, they testified.

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