INDIO (CNS) – Closing statements are expected Thursday from the defense in the retrial of a Cathedral City man accused of gunning down four people in Palm Springs.
Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia, 23, is being tried on four counts of first- degree murder for the Feb. 3, 2019, deaths of Jacob Montgomery, 19; Juan Duarte Raya, 18; Yuliana Garcia, 17; and Carlos Campos Rivera, 25. The charges include a special-circumstance allegation of multiple murders and sentence- enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
Jurors in his first trial deliberated over seven days and indicated March 8, 2022, they were deadlocked. A new jury was sworn in on Sept. 26, 2022.
During closing statements Wednesday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao presented to jurors several PowerPoint slides that included testimonies from the retrial that place Larin- Garcia in the car the night of the killings, show no one else could have been in the backseat of the small Toyota Corolla, show the defendant attempting to flee or hide on three occasions, and show the victims were deliberately killed in an effort to prove that the defendant was lying in wait, acted with intent to kill, in deliberation and with premeditation.
“Some people are just bad,” Paixao told jurors. “Some people just want to kill, and when you kill four people within a matter of minutes, you like to kill.”
Paixao said that someone who pulls a trigger and shoots each victim two times knows what they’re doing and is acting with intent to kill. Photos were then shown to jurors of each victim from when their injuries were evaluated by an expert as Paixao listed how each victim was fatally injured.
“We know he took (Montgomery) by surprise because look at where Jacob was shot (twice on the right side of his face.). Look how he was murdered!” Paixao said. “Sitting in the car next to Vladimir Larin-Garcia. There is no other way that this execution happens unless he had a secret plan then he took them by surprise.”
At the end of the prosecution’s closing statements, Paixao asked jurors — after they go through the evidence, determine the facts and deliberate with each other — to return to the court with a guilty verdict for the defendant for “stealing” the victims in the case.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos asked jurors to return at 10 a.m. Thursday for closing statements from the defense.
During opening statements on Sept. 28, 2022, Paixao told jurors that three of the shooting victims were found in a green Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads about 11:40 p.m. the night of the killings, while the fourth victim — Rivera — was found on a street about a half-mile away.
Montgomery, Raya and Garcia were killed inside the car, authorities said.
Prosecutors contend Larin-Garcia was in the car, first killing Rivera as he stood outside the vehicle, then killing the others because they had witnessed the first shooting.
Dolan, however, pointed to social media posts and messages allegedly made by then 15-year-old John Olvera suggesting they implicate him in the killings. He also pointed to a private conversation between Olvera and a woman, in which he allegedly said, “Jacob thought I was playin’ — he shouldn’t have had a kid female in the car cuz he knew I was gonna get him” and “I never meant that girl to die.” The message allegedly referred to one of the shooting victims, Jacob Montgomery.
“Mr. Olvera took credit for this, he’s the person you should be trying on this case,” Dolan said.
During both trials, Olvera denied any involvement in the killings, saying any posts on Facebook and Instagram were unfounded boasts or lyrics by rapper Young Boy.
During closing arguments in the first trial, Paixao dismissed the messages, saying facts in the case did not align with what Olvera claimed occurred. For instance, Olvera claims he was shot at first, when evidence indicates only one firearm was involved.
In both of Larin-Garcia’s trials, Dolan created a scene for the jury in which Olvera was in the middle seat of the car shooting the passengers, and that Larin-Garcia jumped from the vehicle when the killings began. But Paixao argued there was no evidence to suggest a fifth person was in the vehicle, pointing to eyewitness testimony of only four people being present.
Paixao said Larin-Garcia was inside the Corolla with the three victims, and that Montgomery was planning to make a drug deal — the defendant was in the back seat when he allegedly fatally shot Rivera, who was leaning against the car on Canon Drive, south of Theresa Drive.
After the shooting, the driver of the Corolla sped off, but Larin- Garcia allegedly shot the driver as well as the other two occupants, then jumped from the moving car before it crashed into a parked Jeep at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads, according to the prosecution.
According to Paixao, blood on Larin-Garcia’s shoes and jacket had the DNA of the victims on it, placing him inside the vehicle at the time of the murders. She further argued that bullet casings at the crime scene matched those that were found in the defendant’s bedroom and vehicle, further attaching him to the events.
Dolan asserted during his closing argument in the first trial that the blood splatter identified on Larin-Garcia’s clothing did not prove murder, and there was no search for a gun the prosecution claims he used in the crime, only bullet casings.
According to preliminary hearing testimony, Larin-Garcia was found by officers hiding under a pickup just blocks from the scene of the Corolla crash. He was taken to Desert Regional Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries but was not arrested.
The defendant left the hospital after being questioned by Palm Springs police, going to a friend’s house. Detective Steve Grissom testified that the friend went to the defendant’s mother’s home to retrieve fresh clothing and an ID card for the defendant.
Later in the day, the friend also bought bandages for Larin-Garcia, along with a Greyhound bus ticket to Florida under the name “Joseph Browning,” Grissom testified.
At some point that day, Larin-Garcia shaved his head to change his appearance, then the friend drove him to the bus station in Indio, where Larin- Garcia was arrested, Grissom testified.
Larin-Garcia remains held without bail at the Benoit Detention Center in Indio.
An undercover officer who spoke with Larin-Garcia while posing as a jail inmate testified that the defendant admitted fearing that officers had obtained his gun as evidence, though Larin-Garcia never admitted to a specific crime and the gun has never been found.
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