Prosecutors rested their case Monday in the trial of a Cathedral City man accused of killing four people in Palm Springs in 2019.
Jose Larin-Garcia, 22, is charged with four counts of murder stemming from the shootings in which the victims, ages 17 to 25, were found dead at two separate locations. He also faces a special-circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, opening him to a possible death sentence if convicted.
According to prosecutors, three of the victims were found in a Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads at about 11:40 p.m. Feb. 3, 2019, while the fourth was found 30 minutes later lying on a street about a half-mile away.
Killed inside the car were Jacob Montgomery, 19, Juan Duarte Raya, 18, and Yuliana Garcia, 17, who was pregnant at the time. The fourth victim, who was found in the street, was Carlos Campos Rivera, 25.
On Monday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, prosecutors finished their case in chief with testimony from Chad Eyerly, a DNA expert, who discussed DNA samples from blood found on the clothing of Larin-Garcia and how it could belong to victims of the crime.
During opening statements in November, prosecutors asserted that the blood found on the defendant’s clothing linked him to the crime scene, and that bullet casings found at the crime scene matched those found in the defendant’s car during a later search.
Prosecutors said Larin-Garcia was inside the Toyota with the three victims, and Montgomery was planning to make a drug deal. The defendant allegedly was in the back seat of the Corolla when he fatally shot Rivera, who was standing outside or leaning against the car on Canon Drive south of Theresa Drive.
After the shooting, the driver of the Toyota sped off, but Larin-Garcia fatally shot the three other people in the vehicle, then jumped from the moving car before it crashed into a parked Jeep at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads, prosecutors contend, saying Larin-Garcia killed the trio because they witnessed the murder of Rivera.
Larin-Garcia’s attorney, John Dolan, contended that only blood spatter on his clothing linked the defendant to the crime scene, and there was no search for the alleged gun the prosecution claims he used in the crime, only bullet casings.
John Doe, an undercover officer who spoke with Larin-Garcia while posing as a jail inmate, testified during the trial that Larin-Garcia admitted that he believed officers had his gun as evidence.
According to Doe, even though Larin-Garcia admitted to having the unfound gun, he never admitted to shooting anyone.
During the trial, Dolan also pointed to social media posts and messages allegedly made by John Olvera, now 18, suggesting they implicate him in the killings.
Larin-Garcia’s attorney pointed to a private conversation between Olvera and a woman, in which Olvera 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 referred to one of the shooting victims, Jacob Montgomery.
Olvera denied any involvement in the killings, saying any posts on Facebook and Instagram suggesting anything to the contrary were unfounded boasts or lyrics by rapper Young Boy.
According to preliminary hearing testimony, Larin-Garcia was found by responding officers hiding under a pickup just blocks from the scene of the crash, and was taken to Desert Regional Medical Center for treatment of various abrasions. At the time he was not in custody.
Larin-Garcia then left the hospital, where police had been questioning him, and went to the home of a friend, prosecutors said.
Detective Steve Grissom of the Palm Springs Police Department testified during Larin-Garcia’s preliminary hearing that the friend went to the defendant’s mother’s home to retrieve fresh clothing for the suspect and his identification from a wallet. 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 Greyhound station in Indio, where he was arrested, Grissom testified.