By Catherine Hamilton and Sahaily Zazueta
RIVERSIDE, CA – Monday, in Riverside County Superior Court, the trial of Jose Larin-Garcia proceeded with discussion of possible witnesses and evidence in the penalty phase if the jury comes back with a guilty verdict.
Larin-Garcia is on trial for a quadruple homicide the night of Feb. 3, 2019. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty over life in prison without parole.
Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao started off by telling Judge Anthony Villalobos that she had not received any of the witnesses or evidence from the defense, led by private attorney John Dolan. The defense had been supposed to have their lists ready Monday by 10 a.m., but had not yet provided them to DDA Paixao.
Judge Villalobos told the defense that it was highly irregular since both sides had said they would be ready by the start of the week. He told the defense to have the information given to DDA Paixao by 5 p.m. Monday.
The defense did give a possible list of witnesses including Larin-Garcia, his mother, a woman who conducted a previous psych eval and will do another this week, and a mitigation expert that had spoken to family members.
Next, the defense brought up their issues with some of the prosecution’s evidence it was planning to show, should the jury return with a guilty verdict.
The first cause of concern was a DUI that Larin-Garcia had before the murders, with DDA Paixao claiming it showed aggressive behavior, to which Judge Villalobos agreed.
DDA Paixao read off of a report from one of the officers reporting to the DUI, where Larin-Garcia was described to be aggressive with a lack of cooperation, and DDA Paixao said the deputy “feared the defendant was going to assault him.”
The officers could smell an alcoholic beverage on his breath, according to the report, especially when Larin-Garcia was yelling profanities, racial slurs, and spitting. The officers additionally found ammunition, a ski mask, and a machete knife in the car.
The defense tried to argue that fearing an assault is not assaultive behavior and that Larin-Garcia was just responding to people manhandling him from a deep sleep. However, Judge Villalobos allowed the DUI report into possible evidence seeing how Larin-Garcia’s car had been running, possibly showing motive to flee.
He did, however, not allow the ammunition, ski mask, and machete knife into evidence.
Another piece of evidence DDA Paixao said she would want to address in a possible penalty phase was a domestic violence allegation from Larin-Garcia’s ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend said that about four months after they had been together, Larin-Garcia started to punch, kick, and pinch her.
She didn’t come forward until the homicide trial began because she didn’t want her mom to know, didn’t want her friends to tell her “I told you so,” and didn’t want to be hurt worse by Larin-Garcia, according to DDA Paixao.
The ex-girlfriend found a ski mask and rifle under Larin-Garcia’s bed, and, after addressing it, Larin-Garcia held a handgun to her head and told her not to touch his stuff again. She did not know whether the gun was loaded, and presumed the ski mask and rifle to be part of Larin-Garcia’s robbing equipment.
The testimony from a previous witness in the trial, a friend of Larin-Garcia’s, discussed Larin-Garcia’s streak of robberies. There were six referenced by the witness, but Judge Villalobos only allowed one in because the witness had directly been there.
The witness had said that Larin-Garcia was “a bad guy,” and no one wanted to be friends with him because he would steal from you. At the same time, the witness had stated, Larin-Garcia was a good person.
The last thing that occurred before the lunch break was the jury asking for the testimony of John Olvera to be read by the court reporter.
Olvera is the man that the defense claims to be the actual murderer, but Olvera testified on the stand that he was not.
In the afternoon, Judge Villalobos addressed several incidents that were being considered for inclusion in the penalty phase.
As Judge Villalobos called each incident to attention, the defense raised their objections and concerns.
Judge Villalobos first discussed a domestic violence incident in which Larin-Garcia allegedly punched and put a gun to an ex-girlfriend’s head.
Dolan objected to allowing this incident to be included in the penalty phase because this incident was never reported and charges against Larin-Garcia were never filed.
DDA Paixao stated that there is no requirement for there to be a charged crime or a conviction. An individual juror only has to believe that the prosecution proved the conduct beyond a reasonable doubt.
Dolan stated he believed that including this alleged domestic violence incident would be “a denial of due process.”
Judge Villalobos stated that the incident of alleged domestic violence would be allowed in the penalty phase. Judge Villalobos cited the case of People v. Lightsey, in which the court ruled that past acts of violence could be allowed even if no charges were filed or the accused was not convicted.
Judge Villalobos next addressed an incident of alleged robberies committed by Larin-Garcia
DDA Paixao stated that a witness had accused Larin-Garcia of participating in six alleged robberies.
The defense objected to the inclusion of these robberies in the penalty phase because the witness did not specifically mention the role that Larin-Garcia played in the robberies.
DDA Paixao quoted the witness’s statements to two detectives in which he stated that during several robberies, he stayed in the car while Larin-Garcia and other individuals allegedly robbed drug dealers, friends, and strangers.
The defense again objected to the inclusion of these six incidents because the witness provided no specific details as to Larin-Garcia’s participation in the robberies.
DDA Paixao read the transcript from an interview between the witness and a detective. In his statements, the witness only specifically mentioned one robbery that occurred at an In-N-Out Burger in Thousand Palms in Jan. 2019.
In these statements, the witness claimed that when he arrived at the In-N-Out with Larin-Garcia and two other individuals, Larin-Garcia gave his gun to one of the individuals who would then use the gun to commit a robbery.
Judge Villalobos ultimately decided to allow the alleged robbery at In-N-Out in the penalty phase, but the other robberies that the witness claimed took place would not be allowed as incidents because Larin-Garcia’s role in those incidents was not clear.
Judge Villalobos next discussed an incident in July of 2018 in which Larin-Garcia was driving under the influence and assaulted an officer when he was pulled over.
The defense objected to the inclusion of this incident and claimed that Larin-Garcia was asleep behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, and only assaulted the officer as a reaction to being dragged out of the vehicle by the officer.
Judge Villalobos noted the defense’s objection, but decided to allow the incident because he stated it showed evidence of violent conduct.
Judge Villalobos next discussed an alleged incident of battery by Larin-Garcia while in custody against an officer that occurred on Jan. 22, 2020. Judge Villalobos stated that in this incident, Larin-Garcia refused to comply with the officer’s orders to search him and slapped away the officer’s hand twice.
Dolan argued that in this incident, the officer pulled Larin-Garcia’s hair to look for razor blades in it, and Larin-Garcia’s slap against the officer was reactive. Dolan stated that this a pending case, and Larin-Garcia should benefit from the presumption of innocence.
Judge Villalobos again sided with the prosecution, ruling this incident would be allowed in the penalty phase for the jury’s consideration to decide if the conduct was violent.
Judge Villalobos next discussed an incident on March 20, 2020, in which loose razor blades were found in Larin-Garcia’s possession while he was in custody.
After discussion between the defense, the prosecution, and Judge Villalobos, the judge decided to allow this incident to be brought to the jury’s attention.
In the last incident for discussion, Judge Villalobos described an incident on July 20, 2021, in which Larin-Garcia allegedly assaulted an officer while in custody by allegedly punching him in the face.
Judge Villalobos decided to allow this incident to be considered in the penalty phase, adding he would decide which assault charge would be most applicable to this incident.