INDIO (CNS) – Defense testimony began Tuesday in the penalty phase of a trial against a Cathedral City man who killed four people in a Palm Springs shooting over four years ago, with the defendant’s mother asking jurors to consider the human life at stake.
Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia, 23, of Cathedral City, was convicted Feb. 6 of murder for carrying out the Feb. 3, 2019, killings of Jacob Montgomery, 19; Juan Duarte Raya, 18; Yuliana Garcia, 17; and Carlos Campos Rivera, 25.
Jurors also found true a special-circumstance allegation of multiple murders and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
The same jury is now being asked to recommend whether Larin-Garcia should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Larin-Garcia’s mother, Yudis Garcia, testified Tuesday about how the defendant grew up close with his family, saying she had to get a psychologist to treat her 9-year-old daughter, who often cries because she misses her brother.
“Honestly my heart is destroyed,” Yudis Garcia testified through a translator. “… This is very difficult. I honestly have no words to say the pain that I feel. My son has always been with me. … It’s an emptiness I feel. It’s an enormous emptiness, I don’t desire this upon anyone. … My son is not a bad person. Please think carefully what you are going to do. This is a life. He is a human.”
During prosecution testimony in the penalty phase of the trial last week, the victims’ families testified about the impact the killings have had on their lives.
Yuliana Garcia’s mother, Maria Morales, testified that the last time she saw Garcia they had plans to go to see a movie, but Garcia told Morales she was going to help a friend clean instead.
“I got up and I walked her out the door and then we both hugged and she said `Mom I love you.’ She hugged me really hard like if she knew. She would always give me hugs but that day she didn’t wanna let go of me,” Morales said.
Montgomery’s grandmother, Edith Carranza, told jurors that she last saw her grandson after inviting him to a work dinner, but he wanted to hang out with his friends. She said she told him to be home before 11 p.m. or she would lock the door, and he said, “No grandma, I’ll be home.”
Carranza said that when she got home that night, he wasn’t there, and the next day she found one of Montgomery’s friends crying by her garage. The friend told her that her grandson had died.
“I wanted to be dead before him,” Carranza said. “(Now) his bedroom is empty and ugly and we have a bunch of pictures of him and he’s not there. He’s not coming home again. … Without him, it’s ugly.”
During opening statements in the penalty phase last week, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao asked jurors to consider the significance of the lives lost. But Larin-Garcia’s attorney, John Dolan, asked jurors to consider that on the night of the fatal shootings, Larin-Garcia was “a 19-year- old kid,” intoxicated, and also has a family who will be affected by the penalty decision.
Prosecutors said Larin-Garcia was sitting in a stopped car with Montgomery, Raya and Garcia on the night of the killings, and first fatally shot Rivera, who was leaning against the stopped vehicle. The driver sped away after that shooting, but Larin-Garcia — who was in the back seat — then fatally shot the trio inside the vehicle to eliminate witnesses and jumped from the moving car before it crashed into a parked Jeep at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads, prosecutors said.
Montgomery, Raya and Garcia were found in the crashed Toyota Corolla around 11:40 p.m. the night of the killings, while Rivera was found on a street about a half-mile away, according to prosecutors.
Larin-Garcia was found near the scene of the crime and taken to a hospital, but he left after being questioned by Palm Springs police, going to a friend’s house. Detective Steve Grissom testified that the friend went to Larin- Garcia’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.
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