The attorney for a Cathedral City man charged with four murders in Palm Springs told a jury Tuesday that there was an “outrageous” lack of evidence linking his client to the crimes, one day after a prosecutor said the four
victims “didn’t stand a chance.”
Jose Larin-Garcia, 22, is charged with four counts of murder stemming from the February 2019 shootings in which the victims, ages 17 to 25, were found dead at two separate locations in the city. He also faces a special-circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, opening him to a possible death sentence if convicted.
According to prosecutors, three of the victims were found inside a Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads around 11:40 PM on Feb. 3, 2019, while the fourth was found 30 minutes later lying in the street about a half-mile away.
Killed inside the car were Jacob Montgomery, 19, Juan Duarte Raya, 18,
and Yuliana Garcia, 17, who was driving.
During her opening statements at the Larson Justice Center on Monday, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao said Larin-Garcia and the three victims in the vehicle with him were at the location so Montgomery could make a drug deal. Why the defendant allegedly pulled the trigger, however, was not disclosed.
Paixao told jurors that bullet casings found in the car were the same
casings found in the defendant’s car, although the gun has not been located.
Larin-Garcia’s jacket and shoes also had the blood of the victims on it, which
proves he was in the vehicle with them at the time of the murder, according to Paixao.
Larin-Garcia’s attorney, John Dolan, argued Tuesday that “There is
nothing that suggests that Garcia committed this crime.” According to Dolan, only blood splatter on his clothing linked the defendant to the crime scene, and there was no search for the alleged gun the prosecution claims he used in the crime, only bullet casings.
Dolan further suggested that a “slender person leaving the crime scene” was not properly investigated and could have also potentially committed the crime.
The defense said this lack of evidence and negligence in the overall investigation shows little proof that Larin-Garcia committed the crimes, and to try and use the little amount of evidence provided was “wrong and outrageous.”
During the defendant’s preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Scot Clark said Larin-Garcia was sitting in the back seat of the Corolla when he fatally shot Carlos Campos Rivera, 25, on Canon Drive south of Theresa Drive while the victim was standing next to or leaning inside the car.
The motive for the shooting remains unclear, but Clark speculated at
the time that drugs may have been involved.
After that shooting, Clark said, the driver of the Toyota sped off, but Larin-Garcia fatally shot the three other people in the vehicle, then jumped from the moving car before it crashed into a parked Jeep at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads.
Clark said Larin-Garcia killed the trio because they witnessed the murder of Rivera.
Larin-Garcia “set about methodically killing the only other three people on Earth who could describe what had happened out in front of (Rivera’s) apartment building,” the prosecutor said at the time.
Police testified during the hearing that Larin-Garcia was found by responding officers hiding under a pickup just blocks from the scene of the crash, and was taken to Desert Regional Medical Center for treatment of various abrasions.
Larin-Garcia then fled from the hospital, where police had been questioning him, and ran to the home of a friend, prosecutors said.
Palm Springs Police Detective Steve Grissom testified during the hearing that the friend went to Larin-Garcia’s mother’s home to retrieve fresh clothing for the suspect and his identification from a wallet. Later in the day, the friend also bought bandages for Larin-Garcia, along with a Greyhound bus ticket to Florida under the name “Joseph Browning,” Grissom testified.
At some point that day, Larin-Garcia shaved his head to change his appearance, then the friend drove him to the Greyhound station in Indio, where he was arrested, Grissom testified.
Larin-Garcia has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County. He remains in custody without bail at the John Benoit Detention Center in Indio.