Multiple Witness Testimonies Piece Together Night of Stalked Victim’s Homicide

By Citlalli Florez

MODESTO, CA – Juan Francisco Ibarra-Tapia’s preliminary hearing for murder wrapped up here in Stanislaus County Superior Court last week, and after a string of witnesses—including one police officer who said the accused confessed to stalking and killing a woman, he is being held for trial on the charges.

According to court records, the accused had previously been arrested for stalking the victim of this case last year, and was charged with arson, vandalism and stalking. He was released after posting $50,000 bail.

Ibarra is now accused of killing the victim in March of this year. Prosecutors charge he allegedly shot the victim as she picked up her boyfriend from work. The accused shot at the victim, her boyfriend and one other person, said the prosecution.

Ibarra-Tapia is represented by Deputy Public Defender Marion Titus. The presiding judge was Dawna Reeves.

DPD Titus established she would need to write to Ibarra to communicate as she has trouble understanding him. A stipulation was also submitted by the deputy district attorney into evidence; it was a copy of the coroner’s report.

It was requested the witnesses be allowed in the courtroom for the remainder of the hearing. However, the three witnesses would not be recalled to testify and they would not be able to speak to other witnesses who have yet to testify.

The first witness called by the DDA was Donald Cole, a Livingston police officer who worked in Merced County during Oct. 4 of last year. He testified that the victim parked her car at about 9 p.m. and walked around the block a few times because of previous alarming incidents.

The victim also admitted to placing cameras outside of their apartment due to the same reasons. These cameras captured a subject on a bicycle nearing the car. When the officer investigated the scene, a car window was broken and there was a red flare in the vehicle.

The defense attorney cross-examined the witness. The police officer admitted to not being able to see the subject’s face and not being able to identify the subject’s race. The video camera did not capture the subject allegedly breaking the vehicle’s window.

DPD Titus asked Officer Cole what evidence there was to tie the subject on the bicycle to the incident in which the victim’s vehicle was set on fire. The officer replied “based on my report, nothing.”

The defense wanted the officer’s testimony to be stricken from the record, but the objection was overruled by Judge Reeves. 

The second witness was Turlock Police Officer Raul Garcia. He took part in conducting a homicide investigation.

Officer Garcia interviewed several employees from O’Reilly Auto Parts. The shooting took place outside of the store, in the parking lot. The accused, the victim, and various witnesses work or have worked for the company.

One of the employees interviewed was a manager who had a working relationship with the accused. According to the officer’s testimony, Ibarra-Tapia allegedly admitted to burning the victim’s car, puncturing the tires, and tapping on the victim’s apartment windows and front door.

The victim told the manager that she felt as if she was being followed and that she had obtained a restraining order against Ibarra-Tapia. The day after Ibarra-Tapia was arrested in October of last year, he also allegedly admitted to committing the acts which had gotten him arrested.

Ibarra-Tapia also told the O’Reilly’s manager that “it would be difficult to pin things on him because he had taken measures to avoid being identified or caught.” According to the manager, Ibarra-Tapia would wear boots and gloves.

After the accused admitted to stalking the victim, he would no longer be allowed to return to the store. The manager told the officer he was frightened of Ibarra.

Officer Garcia had also interviewed another co-worker who knew both the accused and the victim. The co-worker had a working relationship with both subjects and was the victim’s delivery supervisor.

According to the interview, the supervisor sent the victim to make a delivery. The victim later contacted her supervisor in fear, telling him that the accused was brake-checking her. The supervisor told the victim to pull over and called the police.

Because the victim was hyperventilating and seemed to be having a panic attack, her supervisor also called an ambulance, the officer said.

The next witness was the victim’s boyfriend who lived with her. According to the witness, Ibarra-Tapia knew about the relationship. The witness also admitted to waking up in the middle of the night to tapping on the victim’s apartment window. This would allegedly happen frequently.

Such occurrences, according to the witness, stopped happening for a couple of months after the accused was arrested in October.

During March, the month of the shooting, neither the victim nor Ibarra-Tapia worked for O’Reilly’s. However, the victim would still pick up her boyfriend from the store because he still worked there. They were sharing a vehicle during this time because the victim’s car was burned.

The night of the incident, the victim was parked outside of the store waiting for her boyfriend, who was working the closing shift.

When the witness saw the victim parked outside, he received a phone call from her. She was repeatedly screaming “babe” and heard gunshots in the background. Confused, the victim’s boyfriend closed the doors and saw a figure aiming a firearm at the vehicle’s back window.

He quickly ran outside, he said, and heard bullets flying past him. He saw shots being fired from a person wearing black pants, hoodie and shoes. The witness said “it all happened so fast.” He locked the doors to the store once again and called the police.

After the gunshots stopped, the witness went outside to check what was going on, and saw the suspect leaving the premises. He rushed to his girlfriend’s side and called the police again. As he described this moment, the witness was holding back tears.

He had placed pressure on the wound and told his girlfriend she was going to be okay. The witness repeatedly called the paramedics until they had arrived. He testified, “I was quite frightened.”

During the defense’s cross-examination, it was revealed that the parking lot was dark due to the lights not functioning properly. The light posts were allegedly tampered with beforehand. As a result, the witness was not able to see the suspect or the car well that night.

Officer Henry Hernandez, of the Turlock Police Department, took the stand as a witness. He had heard gunshots the night of the incident as he was two blocks away from the store. The officer was dispatched to check the incident and reportedly drove past the suspect.

The vehicle containing the suspect was the only vehicle on the road during that time. The officer pursued what turned out to be the suspect.

The suspect’s car allegedly didn’t have lights on and was running several stop signs until it crashed into a fence. Officers said when found, the vehicle was empty and the only objects found were a wallet, a firearm and phone.

The suspect was eventually found hiding in the bushes. When the officer reached Ibarra-Tapia, he repeatedly told the officer, “I’m sorry.” Officers said he was reportedly wearing all dark colored clothing, and matched the description given by witnesses.

Officer Gregory Roten, another Turlock Police Officer, transported Ibarra-Tapia to the hospital because of the crash. Ibarra-Tapia allegedly told the officer, “If you guys hadn’t caught me, this would be a cold case.”

Officers admitted, when asked, that none of the objects found at the scene were sent to forensics for fingerprinting.

Judge Reeves ruled Ibarra-Tapia should be held on the charges. An arraignment on the information hearing was scheduled for Oct. 27. 

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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