By Julia Urquizo and Ava Schwartzapfel
RIVERSIDE, CA – Eye witnesses pertaining to the quadruple murder of three teenagers and one adult in Palm Springs were called to testify at Riverside County Superior Court—and one witness’ account was so problematic that the trial has been delayed.
Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia is accused of killing Jacob Montgomery, 19; Juan Duarte Raya, 18; Yuliana Garcia, 17; and Carlos Rivera, 25.
Larin-Garcia was 19 years old at the time of his arrest on Feb. 3, 2019.
According to court and police reports, Feb. 3, 2019, Super Bowl Sunday, Saul Muriello along with Montgomery and Raya returned to a park after watching the game at Buffalo Wild Wings. They played basketball until 6 p.m. since Muriello had to wake up early to leave for construction school the next morning.
Duarte Raya and Montgomery dropped off Muriello at his home, just five minutes away from their own homes. Around 9:30 p.m. Muriello received a call from Yuliana Garcia to meet the trio at a cul-de-sac where Raya’s cousin lived, in Cathedral City.
Upon meeting the trio, Montgomery asked Muriello to kick in some gas money owed from the day before. Muriello obliged and drove away from his best friends for the last time ever.
Later that evening, one witness watching TV with his family at home on Sunny Dunes Road, Palm Springs heard several consecutive gunshots.
About one minute later, the witness said they heard what is now known as Duarte Raya’s green Toyota Corolla crash into a nearby vehicle parked at another residence.
However, by the time the witness ran outside to see if anybody needed help, he could not see a single person on the street, nor a crash.
The first witness put it this way—“shots, car speeding away, then the car crash.”
Another witness called to the stand had just heard the crash while he was spending time at his friend’s house down the street. This witness ran straight to the car crash.
“The Jeep didn’t look damaged. The Corolla looked more hit,” the witness said.
The witness never saw anybody else on that dimly lit street besides the victims, each shot dead inside—just like the first witness who recalled never seeing anyone running or fleeing the scene.
The final witness was Muriello.
Now, in 2021, Muriello faces his own criminal misdemeanor charges for possession of a firearm and driving without a license. The DA office prosecuting Larin-Garcia is the same office that will be charging Muriello in the near future. Muriello clarified on the stand that he was not offered a plea deal for testifying.
The first point of contention in Muriello’s testimony was his interview with Officer Delgado on Feb. 8, 2019 regarding the crime. He had previously told Officer Delgado in 2019 that he saw Yuliana at 11:20 p.m.
Muriello now claims, on the stand, “I thought it was 11:20 when I saw her, but when I saw she was announced dead…it was 11:30 p.m. So there’s no way I was with them 10 minutes before.”
Instead, it was 9:30 p.m.. when Muriello got the call from Yuliana Garcia to come over to the cul-de-sac. Once Muriello arrived, he saw the victims and the mysterious “heavy set guy” standing outside of the green Corolla.
Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao asked Muriello, “Have you seen that heavy set individual before?”
Muriello replied, “It was Juan’s cousin so I had seen him with Juan.”
Muriello named the cousin he allegedly saw that night, but, as it turns out, he just died in December 2020. Muriello clarified that Raya’s cousin had no reason to kill Raya at the time and that the two never had any issues.
DDA Samantha Paixao pressed Muriello, “Do you remember telling Officer Delgado that when you were in the cul-de-sac with Yuliana, Juan, and Jacob that you did not know who that other individual was but ‘someone called him Vladimir’?”
“No I don’t remember telling him that,” Muriello claims.
When asked by DDA Paixao if he was telling the truth when he spoke to Officer Delgado, Muriello took a long pause and stated, “By advice of counsel, I’m not going to answer that question.”
Muriello continued, “I told Officer Delgado what I thought I knew, but I don’t believe it was the truth.”
The trial then took a brief pause until the afternoon.
When the court reconvened in the afternoon, DDA Paixao took the stand. First, she reinforced that there were two circumstances in February of 2019 that Muriello claimed that he did not know the defendant.
Furthermore, Paixao explained that she was recently informed that a video tape recording existed in which Muriello was presented with a line-up of six potential offenders. Previously, she was unaware that this proceeding took place, nor that there was video footage of it.
This is especially important to the case as there is of note that Muriello did not declare that he recognized any of the six potential offenders, one of which was Larin-Garcia.
This would align with the witness’ original statement that he did not know the suspect.
The DDA then clarified that this information was the extent of her knowledge on the proceedings of the line-up. Judge Anthony Villalobos then recommended that this tape be handed over to the court so both sides could then question the witness regarding its content at a later date.
Defense attorney John Dolan then stepped in stating that, although he knows he should not be objecting, he is “very concerned that Mr. Muriello is being impeached with hearsay evidence by the prosecution who has given him an immunity agreement.”
The defense elaborated on this idea, explaining that this is not an appropriate way to handle a witness who has been given immunity and that it’s “creating a crime in front of the jury.”
Judge Villalabos said he understood Dolan’s concern, yet several people on the prosecutor’s team have clarified that “he has not been given any benefit in these cases for his testimony or anything of that nature.”
DDA Paixao then restated one of Muriello’s original statements from February 2019, quoting “[he saw] the three that were killed and some other guy that I never even met, I’ve never seen him before, he was like heavy weight like, pretty much, like fat like fat… I don’t know what he was wearing, he was Hispanic with short hair,” emphasizing that he was firmly unaware of who the suspect was.
Later on in that same conversation, he stated “Yuliana said that he’s a friend of one of Jacob’s, I wasn’t sure who but one of my friends there said Vladis.”
DDA Paixao finished her point by noting she was not sure what questions Muriello was asked during this interview and it is not clear how his knowledge of Vladis was proposed, but she knows that he did not identify anyone in the lineup.
Defense Attorney Dolan then spoke up, proposing that the witness be taken off the stand until this confusion is “cleared up.”
The judge reinforced this as a great option, and consulted the DDA on the matter. The DDA then stated that she had proposed this idea before today’s court proceedings had begun, and was advised that they would be moving forward.
The DDA then admitted that she is unaware how long the discovery may take, but there are investigators working on it already and she will turn the information over to the court as soon as it becomes available to her.
Judge Villalabos then removed the witness from the stand, and rescheduled his questioning for Jan. 3, subject to change if discovery is not provided by then.
The judge then informed the jury that this trial was delayed “due to outstanding issues.”