A US Particular Forces medic who killed his girlfriend’s husband desires Texas Governor Greg Abbott to intervene and shorten his six-decade jail sentence, saying he deserves leniency as a result of he helped put his girlfriend behind bars as soon as he discovered she lied about being abused. They “used” him in an elaborate murder-for-hire plot.
“I turned her weapon,” Darren Lopez, 51, completely instructed NBC’s “Dateline” in his first interview since being sentenced to 62 years in jail for homicide. “I perceive that.”
“The true prison is in jail for all times. I helped put her there,” Lopez mentioned from the Dallas County Jail earlier than he was transferred to the East Waco Jail.
Lopez, 51, shot Jamie Religion, 49, whereas Religion was strolling his canine on Oct. 9, 2020, outdoors his Dallas residence together with his spouse, Jennifer Religion.
Lopez He was convicted and sentenced in July. The earlier yr, in February 2022, Jennifer Religion pleaded responsible to utilizing interstate commerce to commit murder-for-hire, admitting to prosecutors that she falsely satisfied Lopez that her husband was bodily and sexually abusing her..
For extra on the lethal love triangle, tune into “Shedding Religion” on Dateline tonight at 9 ET/8 CT on NBC.
The truth is, Jimmy Religion by no means harmed his spouse, and the allegations have been fabricated, Assistant U.S. Legal professional Rick Calvert of the Northern District of Texas instructed Dateline. However Jennifer Religion used faux electronic mail accounts and pictures of previous accidents — in addition to a photograph of a bloody lip she obtained from a pictures firm — to persuade Lopez in any other case, Calvert mentioned.
Calvert described Religion’s lies, which included violent sexual assaults by a number of individuals, as “among the most sadistic issues you could possibly dream of.”
Reconnecting highschool sweethearts
Jennifer Religion, a speech therapist, and her husband, an IT director for American Airways, had been collectively for 15 years and had a teenage daughter when he was shot. Throughout her marriage, Jennifer Religion reconnected with Lopez, whom she had dated in highschool. Dallas County prosecutors mentioned the couple had an affair that lasted seven months.
Lopez retired from the Military after six deployments to Iraq, mentioned Andrew Cheramie, the supervising particular agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who investigated the case. Lopez was awarded a Purple Coronary heart and a Bronze Star and suffered a traumatic mind damage in the course of the combat, Cheramie instructed “Dateline.”
Lopez and his spouse separated in 2018, and he turned more and more remoted whereas dwelling on a big rural property outdoors Nashville, Tennessee, with two of his daughters in the course of the pandemic, mentioned Lopez’s lawyer, Juan Sanchez.
“He is sitting on this farm on his laptop,” Sanchez instructed “Dateline.” “And he mentioned, ‘You already know what, I will attempt to reconnect together with her.’ And he discovered her on LinkedIn and emailed her. That is how it began.”
Tens of 1000’s of messages
After reconnecting in March 2020, Lopez and Jennifer Religion spoke continuously, exchanging tens of 1000’s of letters and cellphone calls within the following months, mentioned Eric Barnes, one of many Dallas detectives who investigated the case. Jennifer Religion known as Lopez her “soulmate” they usually got here up with a five-year plan to be collectively.
Lopez mentioned he has no intention of annulling Jennifer Religion’s marriage. Lopez mentioned that when she instructed him that there was no intimate relationship between her and her husband, he pushed her to be trustworthy with him.
By April, Jennifer Religion instructed Lopez that her husband discovered about their affair and started abusing her. At one level, Lopez later instructed Calvert that her husband had sexually assaulted her and that she woke as much as him performing CPR on her, in accordance with a transcript of the interview obtained by Dateline.
Electronic mail correspondence between Jennifer Religion and Lopez confirmed that he needed to alert American Airways to the alleged abuse and immediate her to go to the police. However Jennifer Religion refused, and Lopez mentioned she did not need her daughter to lose her father and feared it could make the abuse worse, Calvert mentioned.
“She additionally instructed me she would not say something occurred” if he instructed authorities, Lopez instructed “Dateline.” “She would deny every little thing to the police.”
“If I do not do one thing, you may die.”
As Faiths’ anniversary approached on October 8, 2020, Lopez mentioned he obtained textual content messages that gave the impression to be from Jamie Religion threatening sexual assault and presumably drowning Jennifer Religion.
So he drove 10 hours to Texas, satisfied that “if I do not do one thing, you are going to die,” he instructed “Dateline.” “I made that dedication there.”
On October 9, moments after Religion’s group left their residence to stroll their canine, an armed Lopez approached Jamie Religion and pulled the set off 9 occasions. Calvert mentioned three bullets hit him within the head.
To make the killing appear to be a theft, Lopez eliminated Jamie Religion’s wedding ceremony ring, punched Jennifer Religion and handcuffed her, Lopez later instructed Calvert, in accordance with a transcript of the interview obtained by Dateline.
Lopez then fled in his pickup truck. He instructed Calvert that someplace in Arkansas he threw Jimmy Religion’s ring out the window.
Within the aftermath of the homicide, Jennifer Religion portrayed herself as a grieving widow and begged for assist discovering her husband’s killer.
“I hope in the future this individual realizes the gravity of what they did, and what they took from me and my daughter,” she instructed NBC Dallas-Fort Price on the time.
Lopez was arrested the next January after authorities tracked his pickup truck — a black Nissan with a particular T-shaped sticker — to his residence in Tennessee. Regardless of his declare that Jennifer Religion deceived him, the district lawyer’s workplace mentioned, “The proof exhibits that Mr. Lopez took no affordable steps to verify the assault or to safe Jennifer Religion’s security.”
“There have been different routes Darren might have taken moreover driving throughout a number of states and killing somebody in chilly blood,” Calvert mentioned. “However that is the selection he made.”
Jennifer Religion was arrested in February 2021 as investigators started to unravel the plot to kill Jamie Religion. She was charged with obstruction of justice after authorities found she requested Lopez to take away the “T” sticker from his truck, Calvert mentioned.
Seven months later, Jennifer Religion was charged with homicide for rent.
Lopez’s lawyer, Juan Sanchez, mentioned it took six months to persuade Lopez that Jennifer had made the allegations. Lopez mentioned that as quickly as he arrived, he was shocked.
“Once I was arrested, I went to jail actually believing I had saved Jennifer” and her daughter, he instructed Dateline.
“The thought by no means registered in my thoughts that she might use me this fashion. I believe she cherished me.”
Lopez apologized to The Faiths’ daughter and mentioned he could not forgive himself for what he did. However he mentioned he might assist by working with prosecutors to “arrest her.”
Cooperation with officers
In October 2021, a month after Jennifer Religion was charged with murder-for-hire, Lopez spent two hours strolling Calvert and different officers by means of the case. He instructed them how they agreed to make the killing appear to be a theft and the way he got here up with a code phrase — 575, the quantity for his SWAT group — for her to make use of in textual content messages after she started claiming her husband was abusing her, in accordance with the textual content.
4 months later, Jennifer Religion pleaded responsible. She was later sentenced to life imprisonment.
Lopez instructed “Dateline” that his cooperation with prosecutors was efficient.
“It was due to me that they have been capable of go as much as her and say, ‘Say hey, Darren’s going to testify towards you,'” he mentioned. However when Lopez appeared in courtroom in July, Dallas County prosecutors allowed the jury to listen to and instructed few of these particulars.
“The jury did not understand how a lot assist she was offering,” Lopez mentioned.
The US Legal professional’s Workplace for the Northern District of Texas declined to remark. A spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Legal professional’s Workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark, nor did Jennifer Religion’s attorneys.
In courtroom, Lopez’s lawyer mentioned his shopper believed Jennifer Religion was dealing with rapid hurt when he fatally shot her husband, a use of self-defense that could possibly be thought of justified underneath Texas regulation.
However the jury convicted Lopez and sentenced him to 62 years in jail.
How did the jury see it?
In an interview with NBC Information, one of many jurors in Lopez’s case famous that the jury took little time to succeed in a verdict. The juror, who requested anonymity as a result of he didn’t need to be publicly related to the case, mentioned the group didn’t discover the self-defense argument convincing.
“There have been lots of different choices,” he added.
However he mentioned the jury’s deliberations on how lengthy Lopez ought to serve took a number of hours. The juror remembers that Lopez was dealing with 5 years in jail, and a part of the group believed he ought to by no means depart a cell once more.
The juror mentioned the case for them was easy: “This harmless individual died due to your choice.”
However others, not less than initially, believed Lopez ought to spend far fewer years behind bars, together with one who believed he ought to serve the minimal sentence, the jury mentioned.
Within the interview, the juror mentioned he didn’t view Lopez as a seamless hazard and believed the convicted killer had been manipulated, although he criticized Lopez for not “asking larger questions and answering extra.”
The panel finally selected 62 years in jail, a quantity the juror mentioned he was comfy with after reviewing textual content messages that appeared to contradict Lopez’s declare that he had no alternative however to shoot Jimmy Religion, he mentioned.
Lopez’s cooperation with authorities was briefly talked about in courtroom however not described intimately, the juror mentioned.
Lopez mentioned he now hopes Abbott will take into account this help, alongside together with his declare of self-defense, and present him leniency.
Citing Abbott’s promise to pardon Daniel Perry, the US Military sergeant convicted of killing a protester in Austin in 2020, Lopez mentioned he was not in search of a pardon, however reasonably a discount in his sentence.
Lopez’s lawyer, Juan Sanchez, mentioned he had not utilized for clemency. The lawyer dealing with Lopez’s enchantment didn’t reply to a request for remark, nor did a spokeswoman for the governor’s workplace.