The men who killed Hoopa resident Julius Tripp in July 2020 pleaded guilty today, with Bronson Moon Lewis Jr. admitting to first-degree murder and Daniel Armendariz III to voluntary manslaughter.
Under a “package deal” with the District Attorney’s Office, Lewis agreed to the standard prison term of 25 years to life. He must serve the 25 years before he is eligible for parole.
Armendariz will serve the high term of 11 years for voluntary manslaughter, along with an additional four years for personal use of a firearm. He gave up credit for the two years he’s spent in Humboldt County Correctional Facility, meaning a total term of 17 years.
Lewis was 18 and Armendariz was 19 when Tripp, 42, was killed on a roadside bank off state Highway 96. The two teens were with a group of five riding in Lewis’s pickup truck and heading from Hoopa to Weitchpec very late at night. When driver Dale Mabry spotted Tripp’s old truck and camper parked along the side of the road, he pulled off and bumped into it with the pickup.
According to witness testimony, Tripp emerged from the camper furious and there was a physical altercation. The fight turned deadly after Tripp tossed a rock at Lewis’s truck, shattering the windshield. At that point Lewis and Armendariz pursued Tripp over a bank. When they returned to the truck, Lewis said either “I think I chopped off his hand” or “I think I chopped off his arm.”
Then the group drove back to Hoopa, where the two teens entered a house and came out packing an assault rifle. Armendariz had the gun at that point, witnesses said, but Lewis was carrying it when they went down the bank where Tripp lay bleeding and screaming.
At that point, a shot or shots were fired.
Although Armendariz admitted the firearm charge, it is believed Lewis fired the fatal shot. At one point Lewis was charged with torture, a special allegation that can mean life without parole.
This morning Lewis’s attorney, Russ Clanton, told Judge Kaleb Cockrum that Lewis accepted the prosecution’s offer because going to trial would have meant risking a no-parole term.
One witness at a preliminary hearing said Lewis admitted what he had done to Tripp: “Chopped him up and then went back and shot him.”
Lewis, 20, appeared calm during the two-hour wait for the pleas to be taken this morning. Not so for the 21-year-old Armendariz, who seemed jittery and nervous. At times he buried his face in his hands.
According to witnesses, after the killing Armendariz assured Lewis that “We’re in this together.”
Sentencing is scheduled before Cockrum on Oct. 10.
Deputy District Attorney Trent Timm is the prosecutor, with attorney Jennifer Dixon appointed to represent Armendariz.
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