CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The case will remain open against an alleged Mexican drug lord with ties to the 2003 Kanawha County sniper slayings, a Kanawha judge said Wednesday.
After speaking with prosecutors, Circuit Judge Duke Bloom did not dismiss a 2011 indictment alleging that Gilberto "Tito" Lopez trafficked large amounts of methamphetamine into Kanawha County.
Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris told the judge that, every week, he talks about Lopez with Charleston police Lt. Steve Cooper, the lead detective in the sniper case.
"Issues have come up recently," he told Bloom, who then called Cooper and Morris to the bench to talk with him in private.
Authorities say Lopez, along with his brother Jaime, operated a multimillion-dollar drug trade that extended from Kanawha County to Elkhart, Ind., and was the reason behind the sniper-style shootings of three people outside Kanawha County convenience stores nearly a decade ago.
Shawn Thomas Lester, who pleaded guilty to one of the murders in July, allegedly targeted all three victims in retaliation for the theft of a drug-packed engine block that police said belonged to the Lopez brothers.
At a hearing last September, Cooper told Bloom that investigators traveled to Indiana, Ohio and Texas in search of Tito Lopez but could not track him down. Cooper said Lopez also had a few relatives in Kanawha County who didn't know where he was.
Border agents in Texas and other federal agents in Ohio and Indiana have been actively tracking Lopez, and authorities believe it is just a matter of time before he is captured, Cooper said at the time.
"If we knew exactly where he was," Cooper said after the hearing, "we'd have him in custody."
Jaime Lopez is in an Ohio prison on a drug-trafficking conviction.
According to an investigative report attached to Lester's court file, Tito Lopez called Charleston police Sgt. T.S. Palmer from a number in Mexico in 2011 because "he wanted to clear his name in the murder investigation."