By Catherine Hamilton, Ozzy Hernandez and Luke Kyaw
RIVERSIDE, CA – The quadruple murder trial against Jose Larin-Garcia reconvened Wednesday in Riverside Superior Court Department 2H with testimony from Larin-Garcia’s mother, an investigator and a friend of Larin-Garcia.
Larin-Garcia is accused of murdering three victims found shot in a crashed car, as well as another victim shot a few streets over on Feb. 3 in 2019. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
The court heard testimony from a friend of the accused who had known Larin-Garcia about a year before the murders.
After Larin-Garcia was taken to a medical center by police early in the morning on Feb 4, he fled the center and proceeded toward his friend’s house. In his earlier testimony, the friend said he remembered seeing Larin-Garcia with abrasions to his lower back.
However, the friend also had experienced a traumatic head injury after a separate attack not related to this case and had difficulty remembering specific details.
Private attorney John Dolan, one of the defense attorneys for Larin-Garcia, began by asking the friend what Larin-Garcia’s demeanor was when he arrived at the witness’s house around 4:30 a.m.
The friend said that he looked sad and hurt “both physically and emotionally” but that he couldn’t remember whether or not Larin-Garcia was intoxicated.
When attorney Dolan asked if Larin-Garcia gave the friend signs that he was in danger, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao objected. However, Judge Anthony Villabolos overruled the objection because the jury was not present, and he wanted “to get to the bottom of this.”
The friend said that Larin-Garcia was acting unlike his usual self and was in tears, on top of acting vaguely.
As attorney Dolan attempted to ask the witness if Larin-Garcia seemed scared or worried, DDA Paixao objected, saying that the defense was asking leading questions and planting answers in the friend’s head.
Judge Villabolos then dismissed the friend, stating that his official testimony would resume when the jury came in.
Dolan felt that the defense was being unfairly limited in their ability to ask questions during the hearing to qualify the witness, but Judge Villabolos agreed with DDA Paixao that, while he would allow speculative questions during a 402 hearing (Evidence Code section 402, determining admissibility of evidence before calling in the jury), the defense had been asking too many leading questions.
Additionally, in reference to the question on Larin-Garcia’s demeanor which the witness answered, DDA Paixao said that “just because the defense doesn’t like the answer” did not mean that she or the court had been unfairly stopping them.
Judge Villabolos said that the friend’s perception of Larin-Garcia’s state of mind that night was speculative, and therefore could not be said in front of the jury.
He also said that the friend’s actions were questionable because if he knew Larin-Garcia was in a rollover accident, he would have likely presumed that the police were looking for him.
Attorney Dolan, however, said that it could have been because Larin-Garcia said he was in danger. DDA Paixao refuted by saying that the witness should have taken Larin-Garcia to the hospital if he knew Larin-Garcia was in pain.
“They didn’t die in a traffic collision,” she said in reference to three of the victims. “They were executed.”
The witness was excused and not subject to recall.
The next witness DDA Paixao called to the stand was Larin-Garcia’s mother.
DDA Paixao questioned the defendant’s mother on the events after her son left the medical center early in the morning on Feb. 4.
The mother stated that the friend had come to her apartment that morning around at 7 a.m. to get a change of clothes for Larin-Garcia. Then, she went to the friend’s apartment to give her son a cell phone that had belonged to her daughter, as well as more clothes.
After returning home, Cathedral City Police arrived at her house that afternoon to look for Larin-Garcia because he had left the hospital grounds without permission.
According to the mother’s testimony, she claimed she had not known her son had been in police custody—though not arrested—when she saw him. The prosecution attempted to press the mother about possibly helping her son evade justice, but she affirmed that she had not.
When the police searched her apartment for the first time, she played for them a voicemail left to her from Larin-Garcia at 3:30 a.m. that morning. According to a transcript of the call, Larin-Garcia said, “Hey Mom, it’s me. They’re going to arrest me and I need to call a lawyer.”
The defense requested that the “I need to call a lawyer” part be left out of the trial, however, because the Sixth Amendment gives the right to an attorney, and unfairly characterizes him as knowing he did something wrong.
When DDA Paixao asked Larin-Garcia’s mother about what was explicitly said in the voicemail, she said that she could not recall.
The defense then brought up a phone call Larin-Garcia had made to his mom when he was in custody after attempting to flee from the police. His mother testified that when she asked him why he had run from the police, Larin-Garcia said it was because he had been scared and intoxicated.
DDA Paixao unsuccessfully motioned to throw out the second voicemail as evidence, but Judge Villalobos denied it, as he ruled the word “scare” can be construed in whatever way both counsel see fit to support their narrative.
Larin-Garcia’s mother is subject to recall per the prosecution, and cannot be in the courtroom during proceedings until she is fully excused.
When the defense asked why she could not be dismissed, DDA Paixao explained she wanted the jury to hear the testimony of the officer who also heard the voicemail before the mother can be officially dismissed as a witness.
The police officer in question is expected to testify in early January.
Furthermore, DDA Paixao added she cannot dismiss the mother because the defendant’s mother cannot fully recall the details of the voicemail.
The prosecutor also said the mother conveniently remembered the phone call the defense asked her about—where the defendant said that he was “scared” and “intoxicated”—but not the voicemail the prosecution asked about.
The mother’s testimony was followed by courtroom drama.
DDA Paixao admonished attorney Dolan for saying she was having a “hissyfit” and reminded him to show respect in the courtroom as he “would not say something like that to his male counterparts.”
After a lunch break, and before the jury was brought in, DDA Paixao asked Judge Villalobos to rule on a stipulation in the trial regarding the voicemail mentioned earlier: “Hey mom, it’s me. They’re going to arrest me.”
Attorney Dolan asked if she wanted to include the rest of the voicemail to which DDA Paixao curtly replied that the defense had wanted to cut out the “lawyer” part. This led attorney Dolan to clarify that he “wasn’t being snappy” and was genuinely asking to make sure.
Both sides then agreed on the stipulation and the judge subsequently called in the jury.
The prosecution called to the witness stand Charles Cerzello, the supervising investigator of the Gang Impact Team at the Riverside DA’s Office Bureau of Investigation.
The Gang Impact Team is a task force that investigates major crimes that include gangs, homicide, and narcotics as well as assists other departments in locating and monitoring individuals.
Investigator Cerzello testified that on Feb. 4, the Palm Springs police asked his department to help them locate an individual named Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia.
After going through the database, they went to Larin-Garcia’s last known residence in Cathedral City and set up surveillance around the location. At this time, the defendant’s mother and a young child can be seen consistently leaving and entering the apartment.
After a while, they then observed a man—later identified as Larin-Garcia’s friend who testified earlier—entering the apartment for a few minutes and leaving with a backpack shortly after.
However, due to a lack of information regarding the case itself, they turned their attention back to monitoring the apartment after tailing the friend.
Cerzello’s team also made contact with the defendant’s mother outside, who allowed them to come into the apartment to see if Larin-Garcia was inside. While the accused was not in the residence, they found a live cartridge of a 9mm bullet laying on the carpet in what the mother had stated was Larin-Garcia’s room.
They then notified the police department and handed over the investigation of the house to them.
Cerzello also received information from Larin-Garcia’s mother that his friend came over to get some things for Larin-Garcia because the latter was about to leave for Florida.
With this new information, the team expanded their search and eventually found through the GPS of the friend’s phone a location for a bus station.
When Cerzello showed the presiding manager of that bus station a picture of both the friend and Larin-Garcia, the manager said the friend recently purchased a ticket but it was under neither of their names.
Afterwards, Cerzello’s team successfully apprehended Larin-Garcia by quickly approaching the location from the back door and holding the suspect at gunpoint.
When asked if the defendant was cooperative after being taken into custody, Cerzello stated that the defendant did not immediately go down when they held him at gunpoint but admitted that he “didn’t actively fight, resist, or try to hurt anybody.” He also held mainly that the defendant did not really have the chance or time to react.
As an aside, attorney Dolan also clarified to the jury that there is no gang affiliation in this case as the witness deals with gang cases in his occupation.
The trial is scheduled to reconvene Thursday morning.