The defense Monday will ask a judge to declare a mistrial and dismiss the case against a Cathedral City man accused of gunning down four people in Palm Springs, claiming a piece of evidence in the case was mishandled and violated the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
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 they were deadlocked. A new jury was sworn in on Sept. 26.
In court papers filed last week, Larin-Garcia’s defense attorneys, John Patrick Dolan and Anthony Valente, allege mishandling of a key piece of evidence — a paper bag that contained a shell casing and a cigarette butt and was found in the trunk of the Toyota Corolla in which three of the shooting victims were found.
Dolan said that Crime Scene Technician Julie Osburn from the Palm Springs Police Department testified on Oct. 24 that a paper bag with debris, collected by a tow truck driver, was missing but was “nothing of evidentiary value.” But on Nov. 8, as detectives were preparing to bring the Corolla to the Larson Justice Center in Indio for jurors to view, the paper bag was found in the trunk, the attorneys contend.
The Corolla was taken to the courthouse with the bag of debris still inside, and after the jury viewed the vehicle, it was taken to a storage lot where investigators photographed the vehicle and removed the bag from the trunk and took it to the police department for booking as evidence, according to Dolan.
In his motion for a mistrial, Dolan claims that “whether the court decides to admit or exclude the evidence, the defendant will suffer irreparable prejudice and it will be impossible to receive a fair trial.”
Dolan, in a separate motion seeking dismissal of the case, he claims the handling of the evidence was an “intentional destruction and neglectful loss of and tampering with evidence,” violating Larin-Garcia’s right to a fair retrial.
During opening statements on Sept. 28, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao told the jury 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.
“He (Montgomery) was shot twice in the face, so the person that would have shot him would have been to the side, next to him, pointing that gun,” Paixao said. “He didn’t stand a chance. He was taken by surprise.”
Montgomery, Raya and Garcia were killed inside the car, authorities said.
Prosecutors contend Larin-Garcia was in the car and pulled the trigger, killing all of the victims.
“I will stand before you at the end of the trial and ask you to hold him (Larin-Garcia) accountable for each and every count, for each and every allegation for what he stole on that night,” Paixao said. “Four people’s lives.”
Dolan, however, pointed to social media posts and messages allegedly made by John Olvera, then 15, suggesting they implicate him in the killings. He also 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 allegedly referred to one of the shooting victims, Jacob Montgomery.
“The people assure that Mr. Larin-Garcia, this 19-year-old boy, on Feb. 3, 2019, killed four people and he should be held accountable for it,” Dolan said. “That is just despicable. Mr. Olvera took credit for this, he’s the person you should be trying on this case.”
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.
Dolan claimed that Olvera was an unreliable witness at the first trial and that his testimony should not be trusted, only his social media posts taking credit for the homicides. He further argued that police did not properly investigate Olvera when they found the posts, casting reasonable doubt on whether or not his client committed the crime.
In the first trial and again on Sept. 28, 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. Paixao argued that no evidence was present 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, Paixao said.
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 murder. She further argued that bullet casings at the crime scene match those that were found in the defendant’s bedroom and vehicle, further attaching him to the events.
Dolan asserted during his closing argument 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 wasn’t 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.