Next to signs on the door to courtroom 16C warning of the coronavirus outbreak, a list of about 40 cases scheduled for Wednesday had been mostly crossed out with red ink.
On a typical morning, District Judge Douglas Herndon’s courtroom is packed with dozens of people facing the most serious charges, including rape and murder, along with their attorneys and family, prosecutors and court staff.
Emotions clog the air when seats in the gallery are filled.
But as Herndon called Daniel Lopez’s name for sentencing on a voluntary manslaughter charge, the judge looked across an empty gallery and asked his marshal to check the hallway for any relatives of the victim, 31-year-old Ana Dolores Guayasamin.
“No one’s out there, judge,” the marshal said.
Even the clerks and assistants who usually flank the judge — handing him notes about cases, reading aloud future court dates — were absent.
In an effort to stave off the spread of the new virus, all criminal and civil jury trials have been postponed for at least a month, and all scheduled, nonessential court hearings are to be conducted by video or telephonic means or rescheduled.
On the first day since Gov. Steve Sisolak called for a statewide halt to most business, the Regional Justice Center reflected a barren downtown around it.
As the few who remained in Herndon’s courtroom adhered to social distancing standards, a shackled 33-year-old Lopez, wearing a blue jail jumpsuit, rose from his seat in the jury box alongside only five other inmates.
In January, inside a much more crowded courtroom, Lopez had pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the January 2019 killing.
On Wednesday, he said he had done so to avoid a trial and an “additional ordeal for Ana’s family.” He said he was “delusional” when he shot Guayasamin, his roommate.
“I hope I can prove I’m not a heartless killer devoid of reason or empathy,” he said. “If I could give my time or even part of my life to bring back my friend, I really would. … Now that I’ve been on proper medication, I realized how much heartbreak this has caused.”
Prosecutor Giancarlo Pesci asked for a minimum sentence of six years in prison, saying Lopez would not be forced to take medication once released.
“The mental health issues he has I believe will persist,” Pesci said. “So it’s a punishment for what actually happened and a protection for future instances, potentially.”
Deputy Special Public Defender Charles Cano argued for probation, saying that a man with Lopez’s mental troubles could be attacked inside a crowded prison system.
“He has been punished for this,” Cano said. “Should he be victimized for this? That’s what the hard part is about this case.”
Herndon ordered Lopez to serve 4½ to 15 years behind bars.
The hearing lasted under 10 minutes. Afterward, the judge called a final case before Lopez was taken away and the marshal locked the courtroom door.