A 51-year-old man joined with two others to run a marijuana dispensary worker with a backpack stuffed with cash off the road in Santa Ana, gunning him down and stealing the loot and the victim’s cell phone, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday — while the defendant’s attorney said there is “zero evidence” to prove his client’s guilt.
Antonio Lamont Triplett is charged with murder, with a special circumstance allegation of a killing during a robbery, and felony second-degree robbery.
Co-defendants John Ben Taylor and Ryan Jones, both 38, are awaiting trial.
They are accused of killing 29-year-old Osvaldo Garcia of Santa Ana on Sept. 16, 2019.
Garcia was driving home in his Honda Accord when he was run off the road by a gray Nissan at 17th and Bristol streets just before 1 a.m., Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said. Garcia was on the phone with his girlfriend, Carmen Munoz, at the time, Birney said.
Two men jumped out of the car that was in pursuit and opened fire on the Honda while Garcia was scrambling to climb out of the passenger side window, Birney said. The two suspects ran over to the other side of the car and opened fire again and beat Garcia over the head with a gun until a laser sighting broke off of the weapon, Birney added.
Then Triplett popped the trunk to steal the backpack full of cash, Birney said. Meanwhile, many cars passed by, including a squad car that appeared unaware of what happened and did not stop at the accident scene despite the Honda being perched on a row of hedges in the eastern perimeter parking lot of Santa Ana College, according to surveillance video shown to jurors.
Moments later, Triplett ran away onto the campus, Birney alleged. Investigators have surveillance video from 16 cameras, but “the quality is not great,” Birney said.
It was unclear whether one or two guns were used in the shooting, Birney said. But before the Santa Ana police car passed by, the suspects calmly went about their business of stealing from the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene, Birney said.
“After killing Mr. Garcia, they spend minute after minute at that scene getting their money,” Birney said. “The brazen nature of it is really obscene.”
Munoz drove to the scene of the crime with her mother and told police that according to a smartphone app, she saw that her boyfriend’s phone was in Corona, Birney said, adding that police immediately started tracking the phone on the road with help from a helicopter.
At about 3 a.m., police tracked the phone to an industrial complex in Carson, where suspects from three vehicles met and exchanged property, Birney said.
One of the suspects at that scene was Miah Mendoza, a former employee of TRG marijuana dispensary in South Los Angeles, where Garcia worked, Birney said. Garcia’s job was to transport crash receipts from the business, the prosecutor added.
Police followed one of the vehicles to Long Beach and set up surveillance and later arrested Triplett, who drove away in another car, where police found Garcia’s cell phone, Birney said. Investigators found Garcia’s blood on Triplett’s shoe as well as a bandana with Triplett’s DNA on it at the crime scene, Birney said.
Triplett’s attorney, Lawrence Volk of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said that “Ninety percent, if not more, of what the prosecutor said he’s going to show you they probably will, but, that being said, I am confident you will return a verdict of not guilty.”
Volk added, “What happened to Osvaldo Garcia is tragic,” but he implored jurors not to be swayed by emotions.
“What does the blood evidence on the bottom of the shoe tell us?” Volk asked. “What does the video show of who did what when? … There is zero evidence in this case Mr. Triplett was part of a plan in this case … Zero evidence he was armed, supplied a weapon or knew someone was armed (in the robbery).”
Volk said Jones was the driver and Taylor was the shooter who beat the victim.