A Tucson man charged with four felonies related to the alleged rustling of cattle, some of which carried the Tohono O’odham Nation brand, pleaded not guilty during arraignment last week in Cochise County Superior Court.
Norbert Ralph Lopez is alleged to have trapped three young bulls and three young heifers from open range and removing them without consent of the owner, believed to be the Nation. He is also accused of theft of cattle valued at $3,000 to $4,000, trafficking in stolen property, and offering to sell six head at the Willcox Livestock Auction in February 2019 without proof of ownership.
Lopez, 49, rejected a plea deal in May while the case was still in the Willcox Justice Court. He appeared in Cochise County Superior Court with attorney Perry Hicks for arraignment June 14 at which time Hicks entered not guilty pleas.
According to court records, Livestock Agent Charles Hornburg of the Arizona Department of Agriculture inspected six head of young Corriente which Lopez brought to sell at the Willcox Livestock Auction on Feb. 21, 2019. Hornburg noted all six carried Lopez’s registered NL brand but two also had an older brand belonging to the Tohono O’Odham Nation.
“I asked if he bought them. He said no,” the agent noted on his inspection report.
When asked where he got the cattle, Lopez reportedly told Hornburg he “caught them in a trap” near Ajo and Sandario, which is at the edge of the San Xavier Indian Reservation.
Arizona’s open range laws do not provide for a finders keepers form of livestock ownership, so Hornburg seized the cattle.
The Cochise County Attorney’s Office received the case in September 2020. And decided in late January to move forward with prosecution. A preliminary hearing conducted by Justice of the Peace Trevor Ward on May 17 ended with Lopez being bound over to superior court on all four felony charges.
Among the evidence presented at the hearing were photographs taken of the six head at the auction corrals. Lopez’s brand is clearly visible on the rib cage area of all six, and had been done in the last four to six weeks as the burn area was peeling, according to Hornburg.
Lopez is out of custody on his own recognizance but is under court order to not have any contact with the alleged victims nor to return to the scene of the alleged crime. He is scheduled to return to court for a July 9 pretrial conference although a jury trial is likely to not take place until early 2022.
According to prosecutor Terisha Driggs, she is not aware of any other prosecutions related to or stemming from Lopez’s case at this time.