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Healdsburg man takes plea bargain in pot garden shooting

One of three men charged with murder at a Healdsburg pot garden entered a plea bargain Wednesday with prosecutors that requires him to testify against his co-defendants.

Ramon Velasco Lopez, 28, of Healdsburg, admitted being an accessory to marijuana cultivation in the Oct. 16 shooting of his brother-in-law, Gabino Lopez Santiago, 46, at the garden near West Dry Creek Road.

Prosecutors agreed to drop a murder charge against Lopez if he takes the stand at a Feb. 27 preliminary hearing for Sidonio Cruz-Santos, 35, of Santa Rosa and Augustin Zepeda-Onofre, 23, of Windsor.

Both men are charged with murder and face life sentences.

Lopez is expected to provide key evidence against them.

"He was present at the time of the shooting and was there when the body was dumped," Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson said outside court Wednesday.

Detectives believe Santiago, who tended a nearby olive orchard, went drinking with a co-worker and his brother-in-law the night of the shooting.

They were joined by Cruz-Santos and Zepeda-Onofre, who urged Santiago to take part in their marijuana growing venture on Chemise Road, detectives said.

When Santiago refused, Cruz-Santos and Zepeda-Onofre shot him. His body was dumped about 10 miles away on Mill Creek Road.

Lopez, who reported the shooting to police later that night, admitted he dumped the body as instructed because he feared for his life.

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