By Catherine Hamilton and Julia Urquizo
RIVERSIDE, CA- Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia’s quadruple murder trial resumed on Tuesday morning to bring in an eyewitness and Officer Steven Grissom to testify.
Larin-Garcia is accused of murdering 17-year-old Yuliana Garcia, 18-year-old Juan Duarte Raya, and 19-year-old Jacob Montgomery on Feb. 3, 2019, in Palm Springs. The teenage victims were found shot dead in Duarte’s green Toyota Corolla, crashed into another parked Jeep on El Placer Road.
The Riverside County Superior Court heard testimony Tuesday from witnesses called by the prosecution in the lengthy trial of Jose Larin-Garcia, a man accused of a quadruple homicide in Palm Springs.
The first witness heard after the lunch break was Jonathan Mosley, a police officer in Palm Springs who was dispatched to the site of a traffic collision late in the night of Feb. 3, 2019.
On his way to the accident, Mosley saw a subject who he described as tall, thin, limping, and dressed in all dark clothing running down one of the nearby streets. He broadcast a radio call to find the figure, but did not call out to them himself.
Both attorney Dolan and Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao spent time clarifying Mosley’s identification of the subject.
DDA Paixao revisited Mosley’s broadcast, where he had reported that the subject was male, but Mosley said that he does not know with 100 percent certainty whether or not the subject was male or female.
Additionally, attorney Dolan asked Mosley whether or not he knew if the subject was involved in the collision, to which Mosley said he did not.
The second witness was the father of one of Larin-Garcia’s friends, who had known Larin-Garcia about one year before the quadruple murder.
The witness said that he went to church with Larin-Garcia, and enrolled him in boxing classes, but was not closer with him than with any of the other youths that the witness helped in the area.
The witness experienced a traumatic head injury after the homicides took place in an attack not related to the crime, and had difficulty remembering specific details.
In DDA Paixao’s questioning, she asked the witness if Larin-Garcia had ever shown him a firearm. The witness said that Larin-Garcia had once shown him a gun that looked like a rifle.
DDA Paixao then asked if the witness was aware of Larin-Garcia’s ownership of a revolver, a question that attorney Dolan objected to on the cause of relevance.
Judge Anthony Villabolos then asked the jury and the witness to step out of the courtroom.
With the jury and the witness out of the room, Judge Villabolos asked DDA Paixao what the relevance of such a question was. She said that one of the defense arguments is that no firearm was found near the scene of the crime, on Larin-Garcia’s person, or in his room.
However, DDA Paixao thinks this signifies something other than his innocence. Since Larin-Garcia is known to have had a gun or guns, but none were found, he probably had disposed of it to rid himself of evidence, she argued.
Attorney Dolan said that talking about his ownership of guns characterizes Larin-Garcia as a bad person, especially since the shells found at the crime scene were from an automatic gun, not a revolver like Larin-Garcia’s.
Judge Villabolos agreed that the questions from DDA Paixao were depicting Larin-Garcia in a bad light, and therefore, the question to the witness on the revolver was stricken.
Before the jury and the witness returned, Judge Villabolos requested that the defense attorneys leave one attorney to make objections, and the other to question the witness. He said this was a request that had been made previously in the trial because there is only one prosecutor and two defense attorneys, so it can seem that the defense is ganging up on DDA Paixao.
The defense attorneys agreed to follow the request.
When the jury and the witness returned to the courtroom, DDA Paixao asked the witness about the night of the traffic collision and the murders. The witness said that he knew there had been a car accident, but not who had been involved.
However, early the morning after the accident around 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 4, Larin-Garcia arrived at the witness’ house. The witness said he thinks he remembers Larin-Garcia wearing a hospital gown and having abrasions on his lower back.
In an earlier recounting of the case, it was said that Larin-Garcia had fled the police and gone to the witness’ house, and then was later arrested at a bus station.
With Larin-Garcia still at his house, the witness said he went to Walgreens for bandages, Larin-Garcia’s mom’s house for clothes, and to Larin-Garcia’s car for shoes. Additionally, the witness bought a Greyhound bus ticket heading to Tampa, Florida, for Larin-Garcia under the name of Joseph Brown.
DDA Paixao asked if the witness’ name is Joseph Brown, which it is not, or if he knows someone of this name, which he said he does not. She asked why he would book a ticket under this name, to which the witness said he made up the name willingly but does not remember why.
DDA Paixao asked the witness if he was choosing to “not remember” the details of the case, or if he actually could not.
“I am a man of God, I speak the truth,” the witness said, “If I say I don’t recall, I don’t recall.”
The cross-examination began with the other defense attorney clarifying that the witness retrieved shoes from Larin-Garcia’s unlocked car on Feb. 4.
After saying that he did, the attorney began to ask about a casing found in the car, but DDA Paixao objected and Judge Villabolos again sent the jury and the witness out of the room.
Judge Villabolos asked the attorney what he had been planning on asking, and he said that he wanted to know whether or not the witness had placed the casing in the car. Judge Villabolos then asked if the defense was implying that the evidence was placed by the witness.
Rather than trying to incriminate the witness, the defense said they were trying to exclude him from the possibility of placing the casing in the car. Even though the car was unlocked, only the witness and law enforcement had direct, known access to the car.
The plastic bag containing the casing was found in the trunk of Larin-Garcia’s car, and matched the other seven casings found at the crime scenes. However, eight shots were fired, so law enforcement presumed the casing belonged with the other seven. Even with this belief, the plastic bag was never tested for DNA.
After defense attorney Dolan brought up that only seven of eight casings were found at the crimes scenes, DDA Paixao said “it’s nice that they’re actually admitting [the murders] are linked now.”
Previously, according to DDA Paixao, the defense had been trying to argue that the murders of the three occupants in the car crash were separate from the murdered man found in the road a few streets over.
Judge Villabolos allowed the defense to ask the witness if he went into the trunk of Larin-Garcia’s car. If he said yes, they could ask about the casing. But, the witness said no, so they could not.
Attorney Dolan asked, “So we’re being limited on cross-examination?” but agreed to the question policy.
Before the jury and the witness returned to the room, attorney Dolan said to DDA Paixao, “I’m sorry we keep ganging up on you.”
DDA Paixao replied with, “No, you’re not, you keep doing it.”
When the jury and the witness returned to the room, the defense attorney asked if the witness had opened the trunk of Larin-Garcia’s trunk. He said he did not remember, so the attorney asked if the witness put a casing in the car. He said that he did not.
Next, the attorney attempted to ask the witness if he had ever heard Larin-Garcia say he had connections in Tampa, where the Greyhound bus Larin-Garcia had been arrested trying to board had been headed. DDA Paixao, however, kept objecting to the questions on the grounds of hearsay and speculation.
The attorney then began to ask the witness about why he thought that Larin-Garcia had been in danger in Feb. 2019. DDA Paixao again objected, and Judge Villabolos dismissed the jury and the witness for the day.
When the jury and the witness were gone from the courtroom, the defense clarified their question was in reference to the witness telling the police on Feb. 6, 2019 that he thought Larin-Garcia was in danger. They did not, however, know if Larin-Garcia had said something to the witness.
In the witness’ statement to the police, he said that all Larin-Garcia had said was that there had been a traffic collision, and that Larin-Garcia said, “I messed up big time.”
Judge Villabolos agreed to let the defense ask the witness why he had said that he thought Larin-Garcia was in danger, though not in front of the jury until they heard his answer.
Judge Villabolos concluded with again acknowledging that “this is a death penalty case, it’s very serious.”
Earlier Tuesday, the first eyewitness brought to the stand was a female resident in the area. She confirmed to DDA Paixao she was the one who discovered Larin Garcia hiding underneath her truck the night of the murder. Larin-Garcia was discovered not too far from the crime scene on Desert Way.
Defense counsel Dolan cross-examined the witness, asking her about any additional details she may have seen. The witness confirmed that she never found a weapon anywhere around the premises. Nor did she see anyone running or limping away down Sunny Dunes because it was too far away from her.
Another witness had stated that they saw a small compact vehicle zooming down the street with the windows down. The witness heard, “Hurry up! Hurry up!” as the car passed but did not get a good view of the number of occupants inside.
The next witness called to testify was Steven Grissom with the Palm Springs Police Department. Upon arrival at the scene, Larin-Garcia’s blood alcohol level was at 0.16 and he had abrasions on his hands, said the officer.
Grissom said he swabbed the suspect for blood that did not appear to result from his abrasions and it was later submitted to evidence.
From the time Larin-Garcia was discovered underneath the truck to when he arrived at the hospital, he made multiple statements to Officer Grissom that cannot be discussed in court because he was under the influence.
Based on his experience, Officer Grissom stated the lack of bullet damage outside the vehicle indicates that the crime scene could not have been a drive-by shooting.
He said there was also a spot inside the vehicle, behind the driver’s seat, that did not have any blood splatter, indicating that there was someone there to stop blood from being produced in that area.
Police said they found 9mm gun casings on the backseat and underneath the front passenger seat. Yet due to the traffic collision, the location where the four casings were found could not be used to explain where the shooter may have been seated at the time. No firearms were recovered from inside the green Toyota Corolla.
Just days later on Feb. 6, 2019 another officer had identified a minor from a Palm Springs high school that came forward with incriminating Instagram messages sent from another male high schooler.
The male teenager had sent messages saying, “one more pu**y b**ch left,” and that he had never intended for the female victim to die.
Officer Grissom confirmed a pretext call was supposed to take place between the individual that came forward with the Instagram messages and the sender. A pretext call is where law enforcement listens in on a phone call without the suspect knowing. They aimed to obtain a statement from the suspicious sender but no pretext call ever happened.
Grissom, however, said he never met or conferred with the sender of the Instagram messages during his investigation.
Jose Larin-Garcia’s trial will reconvene Wednesday, Dec. 8, in the morning.