By Catherine Hamilton, Mathew Seibert, Ashleen Herrarte
RIVERSIDE, CA – The quadruple homicide trial of Jose Larin-Garcia reconvened Monday here in Riverside County Superior Court with the ongoing testimony of a forensic expert who analyzed the murder scene.
Larin-Garcia is accused of murdering three teenagers and one adult in Palm Springs the night of Feb. 3, 2019. The three teenagers were found shot dead in one of the victim’s green Toyota Corolla, while the fourth victim was found a few streets over.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty over life in prison without parole.
The morning began with a juror, who called in sick with COVID-like symptoms, being dismissed. However, the defense wanted to take the day off and wait for confirmation of a positive COVID test from the juror, citing that they could not “be excusing jurors for phantom illness.”
Judge Anthony Villabolos granted the prosecution’s request for the juror’s dismissal, though also acknowledged the defense worry about dropping to only four alternate jurors. This is a cause for concern, as the trial still has a month left and COVID is still very prevalent.
The case proceeded Monday. Once the jurors entered the courtroom, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao called returning forensic expert Julie Osburn to the stand.
Osburn is a crime scene technician with the Palm Springs Police Department where she analyzes and collects evidence from crime scenes. She was one of the experts working on the murder case.
DDA Paixao began by asking questions about the evidence collected inside of the Toyota Corolla.
DDA Paixao asked whether Osburn knew about the bullet found in the airbag of the passenger seat. Osburn confirmed that she did, so DDA Paixao proceeded to ask about the different fingerprints and blood samples that Osburn had taken from the car.
Osburn was also asked about whether she followed the same procedures every time she took a sample, which she confirmed, noting she went through the marked areas with a cotton swab.
Next, DDA Paixao introduced pictures Osburn had taken of Larin-Garcia on Feb. 4, 2019, into evidence. The pictures showed skin abrasions to his hands, shin and abdomen.
However, when the DDA tried to introduce a picture of Larin-Garcia’s back that showed a grim reaper tattoo along with abrasions, the defense, led by private attorney John Dolan, objected and Judge Villabolos sent the jury and Osburn out of the courtroom.
DDA Paixao justified the entrance of the picture of his back into evidence to show the physical size of Larin-Garcia at the time of the murders. The defense’s argument partially centers on Larin-Garcia’s presence in the back of the Toyota Corolla, but DDA Paixao believes that showing his size would refute that claim.
Additionally, she believed that showing his grim reaper tattoo to the jury would prove that Larin-Garcia had personal control of his bedroom, where candles with the same grim reaper can be found.
DDA Paixao said this was important evidence because the defense claims that bullet casings, which match the ones found at the scene of the murders, found in Larin-Garcia’s room were planted.
However, Judge Villabolos sustained the objection on the grounds that showing the tattoo was not relevant, and instead inflammatory and prejudiced.
The defense began its cross-examination on what Osburn had seen and the samples she’d taken at the crime scene, as well as in a Honda Civic belonging to Larin-Garcia.
She was asked about two photographs of the Honda Civic’s trunk. The first had an empty trunk, while the second had a trunk with layers of trash. The defense seemed concerned how it was that the order of these photos came to be, though Osburn did not have any direct answer.
The defense was also interested in the fact that there might have been cross contamination with some of the evidence, noting a bucket brought from the tow truck driver that included glass and pieces that were found around the scene of the incident. Although when Osburn looked through the bucket, she followed procedure, and noted there is no guarantee the towing did the same.
Additionally, the defense asked about a bullet casing found in a plastic bag in the trunk of the Honda Civic. The casing matched those found at the crime scene, but neither the casing nor the bag were swabbed for DNA.
Osburn was not able to finish her testimony as court finished after the morning session. The prosecution plans for her to be back on the stand Tuesday afternoon.