A father accused of murder and child abuse in the 2020 Placerville death of his 11-year-old son, Roman Lopez, unexpectedly changed his plea Thursday and was convicted in the boy’s death.
A preliminary hearing to determine whether 38-year-old Jordan Thomas Piper should stand trial as charged initially was scheduled to begin next Tuesday morning in El Dorado Superior Court. But that hearing has now been vacated, according to online court records.
Instead, Piper appeared Thursday afternoon in Judge Vicki Ashworth’s courtroom and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Roman’s death, online court records show.
Piper remains in custody and is scheduled to return to court Nov. 21 for his sentencing hearing. CBS 13 first reported Thursday that Piper had switched his plea to guilty in the murder case.
Piper has been in custody without bail since Feb. 4, 2021, when he and his wife, Lindsay Marie Piper, were arrested in the boy’s death. Police said Roman’s body was found in a storage bin in the basement of the couple’s Placerville home.
In a separate, federal case, Jordan Piper was sentenced Monday to 15 in prison for sexually exploiting a girl at his homes in Tuolumne and El Dorado counties from late 2019 through early 2020.
Roman initially was reported missing
Roman was reported missing from his home Jan. 11, 2020. Officials later revealed that investigators found “Roman deceased inside a storage bin in the basement” of Piper’s rented Placerville home hours after the boy was reported missing.
Piper and his wife, Roman’s stepmother, were arrested and charged with second-degree murder. They also were charged with child abuse likely to cause great bodily injury or death and causing cruel and extreme pain for revenge, extortion or sadistic purpose, according to a filed criminal complaint.
The boy’s father was charged with an additional count of willfully failing to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical attention to the boy. His wife was charged with a separate count of willfully having “mingled a poison and harmful substance with food, drink, medicine, and pharmaceutical product and placed a poison and harmful substance in a spring, well, reservoir and public water supply” knowing it could cause injury.
It’s unclear whether Piper has been convicted on the child abuse charges on Thursday. Court records did not indicate he switched to a guilty plea to those charges on Thursday.
Last year, Lindsay Piper changed her plea to no contest to the murder charge, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office has said. She was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. As of Thursday, the 41-year-old mother was serving her state prison sentence at the Central California Women’s Facility in Madera County.
Federal child sexual exploitation conviction
The boy’s father was in federal court Monday morning. U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb sentenced Piper to 15 years in prison for sexually exploiting a girl at his California home in the months before the boy disappeared in Placerville.
In March, Piper pleaded guilty to the charge of sexual exploitation of a child in connection with acts that occurred from Oct. 3, 2019, through Jan. 9, 2020, in Tuolumne and El Dorado counties. As part of the federal sentence, Shubb ordered Piper to serve 7 ½ years of parole and register as a convicted sex offender.
As the Placerville Police Department investigated his son’s death in 2020, law enforcement seized a digital camera and other digital devices. Investigators searched cellphones and found evidence that Piper secretly recorded videos of the underage girl.
The FBI obtained a search warrant for Piper’s digital devices and found a video on a GoPro camera. The video appeared to have been recorded on Oct. 19, 2019, and it showed Piper removing the camera from behind a wall outlet in the bathroom of a rented home in Groveland.
The FBI said investigators found many videos that depicted the girl using the bathroom and bathing. The girl was living in Piper’s Groveland home at the time. Piper sent the girl sexually explicit text messages from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24 of 2019, “concerning a sexual ‘Christmas gift,’” and offering her $250 to use it, according to a filed FBI affidavit.
On Piper’s Samsung cellphone, investigators found screenshots from the secretly recorded videos of the girl — more than 430 explicit images of the girl, the FBI said. Other videos found, dated Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, 2019, were of the girl using the bathroom and bathing other children.
Defense attorney described family situation
Tasha Paris Chalfant, Piper’s attorney, represented him in the federal exploitation case and the El Dorado County murder case. In court documents filed in the federal case, she wrote that Piper was the sole source of income for his family, which included his wife, son, four stepchildren and three foster children.
The defense attorney also said her client “felt tremendous financial and personal stress” and used nonprescribed pills and drank alcohol after work each night.
“He completely lost himself as well as his moral compass, and he has tremendous remorse and shame for his conduct in this case,” Chalfant wrote in the sentencing recommendation in the federal case.
On Monday, the federal judge asked the prosecutor to tell him more about what was then a pending murder case for Piper. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Yang said he has limited information about the El Dorado County case, but he said, “essentially, his son was exposed to excessive levels of salt and eventually died.”
Elaine Hadley is a dedicated journalist covering the ever-evolving landscape of U.S. news. With a keen interest in politics and a commitment to uncovering the truth, she provides insightful commentary and in-depth analysis on domestic issues. When not reporting, Elaine enjoys exploring the diverse cultures and landscapes of the United States.