One man convicted, another acquitted in Toste murder case

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — A Sonoma County jury has convicted one man of murder and acquitted another in the killing of a former Auburn man in a parking garage. Matthew Toste, a 32-year-old single father, was shot dead in December 2006 as he and three others arrived downtown to go to a nightclub. After two days of deliberation, jurors Friday found 21-year-old Joseph Kenneth Lopez Jr., guilty of second-degree murder. A co-defendant, 30-year-old Paul Louis Whiterock, was cleared of all charges and released from jail. Whiterock had been charged with murder for allegedly helping Lopez get away. Three other co-defendants pleaded guilty to lesser gang charges in January. Their sentences are pending. According to previous Journal reporting, Toste was the innocent victim in the early morning hours of Dec. 3, 2006 — the wrong person in the wrong garage at the wrong time, authorities said. Toste, who grew up in Auburn, had been at a company Christmas party and was walking across the garage to a nightclub with his girlfriend, his cousin and her husband, when a dispute arose and he was fatally shot twice in the chest. Two of the five suspects were arrested after the shooting but both were later released. The investigation would continue for 19 months before Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua was able to take evidence — including 5,000 pages of documentation — to a grand jury. The grand jury indicted the five men for Toste’s murder as well as several other charges involving what the district attorney is describing as gang-related incidents dating back to July 2006. “The death of Matthew Toste was a tragedy for the entire community,” Passalacqua said in a statement. “We are pleased that the grand jury returned these important indictments.” Toste, who was not involved in gang activity, worked a construction job for Granite Construction in Santa Rosa while raising his then-5-year-old son. He came to Auburn with his family at an early age and spent the 1980s in the community, loving the outdoors and graduating from Placer High School. From there, he led an adventurous life, working as a logger and fisherman in Alaska, serving as a jet-ski tour guide in the British Virgin Island and bartending in San Diego. He’s buried in the Auburn Cemetery. Gus Thomson contributed to this story.