A Columbia County Magistrate judge ruled Tuesday that two alleged burglars involved in fatal home invasion last month proceed to prosecution in Superior Court.
The men, along with another fatally shot during the Feb. 29 attempt to rob a Martinez apartment, targeted resident Bruce Barrett because they believed he had cash for buying video games.
Authorities say Barrett's 15-year-old son twice shot intruder Justin Anthony Stephens, 19, as he and Leonard Jamal Walton, 18, forced their way into the Cedar Lane apartment and struggled with his father.
Stephens and Walton targeted Barrett "because he bought computer games and electronics from people," Columbia County sheriff's office Investigator James Edmunds said during the preliminary hearing for alleged accomplices Jose Lopez-Gamero and Edward Albert Brown III.
Edmunds said Barrett often bought items and to resell at a flea market. He previously purchased items from Stephens and Walton.
"They knew he had cash in the apartment," Edmunds said.
At the hearing, Chief Magistrate Judge Bobby Christine said enough evidence existed against Lopez-Gamero, 21, and Brown, 19, to proceed with prosecution in Superior Court.
The pair acted as getaway driver and lookout respectively for Stephens and Walton.
At about 7:30 p.m. the night of the home invasion, Barrett told police he heard a knock on the door of his apartment. When he answered, Stephens and Walton, wearing masks, forced their way in.
"They pushed the door in on him," Edmunds said. "They pushed him on the ground and got in top of him."
Barrett's son saw the struggle and retrieved his father's rifle from a bedroom.
After yelling at the men to leave, the boy fired two shots. Both bullets struck Stephens, who died just outside the apartment door.
Authorities say Walton ran away.
In interviews with investigators, Brown said he was the lookout. He said he saw Stephens and Walton knock on the door, push a man inside and struggle with him.
"He said he heard gunshots and he ran," Edmunds said.
After the shots, Brown got into a car driven by Lopez-Gamero and they went to a nearby convenience store. Walton ran out of the woods near the apartment and joined them in the car. They then went to a motel near Interstate 20.
Edmunds said authorities found a mask and gloves in the woods and are awaiting the results of a DNA test.
All three were interviewed in the days following the robbery attempt. Lopez-Gamero and Brown admitted their roles in the home invasion, while Walton denied any involvement, Edmunds said.
All three men were charged with burglary and criminal attempt to commit a felony. Brown and Walton also were charged with simple battery.
At the hearing, attorneys for Brown and Lopez-Gamero requested a bond.
"They are extremely concerned for their safety, especially his son, who killed one of their friends," Assistant District Attorney Madonna Little said of the Barrett family as an argument to deny bond. "They are very afraid. These individuals know where they live."
Christine denied the bond request. All three men are being held in the Columbia County Detention Center.