Prosecution testimony will continue Thursday in the trial of a Cathedral City man accused of gunning down four people in Palm Springs three years ago.
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. 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 in a Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads about 11:40 p.m. 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 pregnant at the time, according to medical examiner Dr. Allison Hunt. The fourth victim, who was found in the street, was Carlos Campos Rivera, 25.
During prosecution testimony at the Larson Justice Center back in December, Larin-Garcia’s mother, Yudias Vanegas, testified that she received a phone call from the defendant after he’d left a hospital — where he’d been taken for treatment of minor injuries — in which he said he was “intoxicated and scared.” Police eventually came to Vanegas’ home, where the defendant lived, and “turned it upside down,” she said.
Vanegas requested to watch the remainder of the trial to be with her son, but was denied as she was subject to potential recall for her testimony.
Larin-Garcia’s attorney, John Dolan, said in his opening statement that “there is nothing that suggests that Larin-Garcia committed this crime.” According to Dolan, only blood spatter 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.
Jonathan Mosley, a police officer dispatched to the scene, testified that he saw “a tall, slender” individual leave the scene and requested assistance in locating the person, but ultimately never found the potential suspect. Mosley described the individual as a tall male limping from the scene, but also said he was unsure of the individual’s gender.
Dolan suggested that this “slender person leaving the crime scene” was not properly investigated and could have committed the crime.
Prosecutors contend that bullet casings found inside the Corolla after the shooting match those found during a later search of the defendant’s car. They also claim Larin-Garcia’s jacket and shoes had the victims’ blood on them.
During prosecution testimony, Keven Martinez, who was friends with the defendant and the three victims in the car, testified that he had “hung out” with Larin-Garcia days prior to the killings.
Martinez said Larin-Garcia told him he was “gonna kill someone tonight” unless he found a woman for sex. Larin-Garcia then allegedly pulled a handgun out and placed it on his lap as the two drove around the area, Martinez said. He testified that Larin-Garcia was looking for someone to kill, although Martinez said he didn’t believe that Larin-Garcia would actually kill someone.
Martinez said that after returning from their drive, Larin-Garcia asked him to set up Montgomery to be robbed.
Prosecutors said Larin-Garcia was inside the car with the three victims, and Montgomery was planning to make a drug deal. The defendant allegedly was in the back seat of the Corolla when he fatally shot Rivera, who was standing outside or leaning against the car on Canon Drive south of Theresa Drive.
After the shooting, 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, prosecutors contend, saying Larin-Garcia killed the trio because they witnessed the murder of Rivera.
Police testified during a preliminary 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. At the time he was not in custody.
Larin-Garcia then fled from the hospital, where police had been questioning him, and ran to the home of a friend, prosecutors said.
Detective Steve Grissom of the Palm Springs Police Department testified during Larin-Garcia’s preliminary hearing that the friend went to the defendant’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.