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Lubbock man avoids murder charge with plea deal, sentenced to 40 years

A Lubbock man took a plead deal and avoided a murder charge from 2016.
A Lubbock man took a plead deal and avoided a murder charge from 2016.(KCBD)
Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 4:38 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 4:40 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A Lubbock man who was facing a handful of charges, including murder, took a plea deal on Tuesday afternoon. The plea deal included him pleading guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and guilty to felon in possession of a firearm. The other charges; murder, evade in a vehicle and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing bodily injury, were all dismissed.

According to court documents, Jonathan Lovato, 38, initiated a police chase, causing a deadly wreck after running a red light in 2016.

In March of 2016, Lubbock police officers conducted an undercover drug deal from a hotel room. Reports show while police surveyed the room and obtained the search warrant, Lovato began taking items and attempted to leave in his car. Officers tried to detain him, but he drove off down 19th St., evading officers for several blocks while speeding and going against oncoming traffic.

Investigators say Lovato ran a red light and crashed into a maroon Mustang, killing 54-year-old Dung Ngoc “Nancy” Tran. Multiple vehicles were involved in the crash, shutting down the intersection at 19th and Avenue Q for hours. Five other people were taken to UMC with non-life threatening injuries.

After the wreck, officers say they found a pistol in Lovato’s waistband and 118.13 grams of methamphetamine in the glove box. Lovato admitted he had the gun and to selling the drug.

In November 2016, Lovato pleaded guilty to federal charges regarding his role in a meth distribution conspiracy. He was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.

At the time, Lovato was a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history. His indictment for the 2016 murder also lists prior convictions for burglary and forgery.

Lovato was sentenced to 40 years for the possession of a controlled substance charge and 10 years for the felon in possession of a firearm charge. Those sentences will run concurrent. He will have to serve his federal sentence of 40 years before his state jail sentence will begin. He is currently in the Lubbock County Detention Center.

At his guilty plea hearing, Lovato was allowed to read a prepared statement to the court and to the family members of Tran. After his statement, Tran’s daughter gave her victim impact statement.

She said she had thought about what she would say to him, but she still didn’t know what to say to him.

“The first time I saw you on the news I couldn’t even look at you. The life I knew vs the life you took. You did more that day than make poor discussions. You chose your actions that day and my mother was killed. The damage you caused is irreversible. I am stuck in this loop of trying to understand. It was just the four of us she was our rock you took all that away from us you took our mom away from us. Nothing you can say can take away the months and years of us trying to process what you took from us.”

She did not provide a copy of her written statement.

A copy of Lovato’s statement is below.

His statement said:

My name is Jonathan Lovato, and I am an addict. It has taken all of my life to say those words out loud. I know my past life of crime was born of my drug addiction. My father was and still is an addict and I learned it from him. But today I will break that cycle, for me and for so many other men out at the jail. On March 17, 2016, I was leaving my motel room when a big black pickup truck came speeding at me and slammed on its brakes. A man got out and pointed a gun at me and my girlfriend. I was terrified. We were terrified. I was more terrified than I have ever been in my entire life, and I drove away as fast as I could to save our lives.

I have now learned since being arrested that it was an undercover officer for LPD in an unmarked car. He was in plain clothes, I saw no lights, I heard no sirens, and I didn’t know he was a police officer. I have been robbed before at gunpoint and I was terrified. I was even more scared this time because my girlfriend was in harm’s way. I did what anyone would have done in that situation and ran to save our lives.

Then, a terrible tragedy happened. Nyope Dung Trans lost her life in a car crash. I have begged my lawyers for years to be able to say these words and send the letters that I have written, but I was told it was not the proper time. Today I get to say to Mrs. Tran, I am so sorry. Today I get to say to Mrs. Tran’s family, to her children, to her husband, I am so sorry for taking her away from you. I am sorry for the grief and pain I have caused each of you over all these years and in the years ahead.

I owe it to Mrs. Tran to right this horrible wrong. I promise I have changed. I promise I will change others. For the past 5 years, I have been a mentor at the Lubbock County Jail. I have graduated from the step-up program, assisted jail staff in teaching classes that help inmates learn how to make better decisions and change their futures, and even mentored one on one with many young inmates to guide them on why they need to choose a different life and not become like me. I’ve tried to change so many inmates’ lives to make the world a better and safer place for our community.

There will be those who won’t want to listen to the truth, there will be those who won’t want to listen to me because of my background, because of who I once was. But it will take all of us to make changes and find true justice going forward. I’m asking for your help to save lives with me. Write to your local councilman, your legislators, and your governor to help prevent tragedies like this in the future. We see so many tragedies in the news every day and these tragedies strike the young and the old, the back and the white, the rich and the poor, on all sides of the criminal justice system. We need to focus on the problems.

How do we make our leadership implement better policies and procedures so there are not mistaken for beliefs like mine? Mistaken beliefs that lead to tragedies for both the guilty and the innocent. It is not enough to just ask our leaders the tough questions on why things are not being changed, we must demand a fix to the real problems that come from addiction and solve the problems on why people turn to drugs to survive. There are so many cases like mine that go unnoticed.

I owe Mrs. Tran, but also my community and her family to continue to do better. I have done better, and I will continue to do better. I believe in heaven and I believe she is looking down on me and challenging me every day. I will not let you down.

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