Jun 10, 2015

Murder cases against Pedro and Sandra Garcia move forward

A Wednesday hearing on the 2014 murder of Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres showed how heavily the case relies on the account of one of the three defendants — and how the other two may try to undercut that account.

The three charged in connection with Guerra-Torres’ January 2014 murder in Badger Basin are John Marquez, who allegedly shot Guerra-Torres to death and mutilated his body, Pedro Garcia Jr., who allegedly arranged for Marquez to carry out the murder, and Sandra Garcia, who allegedly came up with the idea.

Pedro Garcia
The charges against all three are largely based on a confession Pedro Garcia gave to authorities in March. He agreed on Wednesday to have his case transferred from circuit to district court without a hearing, while his sister Sandra Garcia first probed the case against her at a preliminary hearing in circuit court in Cody.

Her attorney, public defender Kerri Johnson of Casper, highlighted testimony from an investigator that Pedro Garcia was using methamphetamine and that Guerra-Torres was his biggest supplier.

“He (Pedro Garcia) was a meth user and was getting meth from Mr. Torres. He’s the one with the motive,” Johnson argued.

She also noted that beyond Pedro Garcia’s account, investigators have little evidence corroborating the alleged conspiracy.

“I believe the evidence in this case with respect to Ms. Garcia is very weak,” Johnson said. However, she also effectively conceded there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to district court.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters agreed and bound the case over.

“He (Pedro Garcia) was a meth user and was getting meth from Mr. Torres. He’s the one with the motive,” argued Kerri Johnson, an attorney for Sandra Garcia.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt had argued that, according to the allegations, Sandra Garcia not only asked for Guerra-Torres’ murder, but also drove him to the spot along Wyo. Highway 294 where she knew he would be killed.

“I guess this would be the law school example of premeditated murder,” Blatt said of the case.

Sandra Garcia
According to Pedro Garcia’s account  — recapped by Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Torczon at Wednesday’s hearing —  Sandra Garcia wanted Guerra-Torres dead because he owed $30,000 to $40,000 to “dangerous people in Mexico.” Those people, she allegedly told her brother, were threatening to kill her and her family — including four children she’d had with Guerra-Torres, Torczon recounted.

Pedro Garcia told authorities he recruited Marquez to “take out” Guerra-Torres. According to Pedro Garcia’s account, Marquez ultimately shot Guerra-Torres at a pullout off Highway 294 in Badger Basin as the Garcias stood by.

Pedro Garcia said he and Marquez then took Guerra-Torres’ body up a nearby dirt road.

As he stood watch, “Pedro Garcia said he heard some gruesome noises that sounded like chopping,” Torczon recounted. When Pedro Garcia looked back, he saw Marquez wielding what looked like a hatchet and putting items in a black bag, Torczon said.

The body — missing its head, left arm and right hand — was left by the road.

The two men headed back to Powell afterwards and “Mr. Marquez said that felt good to him; had him pretty jazzed up,” Torczon said of Pedro Garcia’s account.

Marquez then allegedly cleaned the blood out of Pedro Garcia’s truck and got rid of the black bag, Torczon said.

It took authorities roughly five months to identify Guerra-Torres’ body, in part because no one reported the Mexican national and part-time Clark resident as missing.

Pedro Garcia told authorities that after Marquez killed and dismembered Guerra-Torres, “Mr. Marquez said that felt good to him; had him pretty jazzed up,” recounted sheriff's investigator Joe Torczon.

In the days and weeks after the murder, Torczon said Sandra Garcia gave authorities and family members several conflicting stories about when she’d last seen Guerra-Torres.

When questioned in May 2014, after authorities identified the body, Sandra Garcia initially claimed she hadn’t seen Guerra-Torres in the months before he died. She said he’d left for California no later than August 2013 and hadn’t come back, Torczon said. However, investigators found someone who remembered seeing Sandra Garcia and Guerra-Torres together on Jan. 5, 2014 — just four days before his body was discovered in Badger Basin.

Further, authorities learned that Sandra Garcia had told other stories to her parents: telling her father that she’d put Guerra-Torres on a bus to Mexico and telling her mother that Guerra-Torres had been arrested, Torczon said.

Confronted with the discrepancies, Garcia allegedly gave a different account.

John Marquez
She instead said that Guerra-Torres had come to owe between $30,000 and $40,000 to Californian drug traffickers known as “Don Cheto” and “The Crocodile,” Torczon recounted, noting the amount is consistent with what Pedro Garcia later described.

Sandra Garcia reportedly said that on Jan. 5, 2014, she dropped Guerra-Torres off on Road 7WC near the Cody Shooting Complex for a meeting with “Crocodile.”

“He (Guerra-Torres) needed to meet with Crocodile; he had to,” Torczon said of Sandra Garcia’s explanation.

She said she never saw him again.

Sandra Garcia cried during much of Wednesday’s hearing and shook her head in apparent disagreement as Torczon laid out the different accounts she’d reportedly given to law enforcement and family.

Marquez — who declined to speak with authorities when arrested in March — has not yet had his preliminary hearing, but he’s already criticized law enforcement’s reliance on Pedro Garcia’s account. At his first court appearance last month, Marquez said it was “ludicrous” that he’d been arrested on the word of a “known meth-head.”

Marquez has said it's “crazy” that he was arrested based on the Pedro's account of the crime.

Investigator Torczon said Wednesday that drug use has fogged some of Pedro Garcia’s memories of the weeks before the murder. For example, Torczon said Pedro Garcia told investigators that he thought Sandra Garcia and Marquez met at Blair’s Market in Powell to discuss the plans for the murder, but wasn’t too sure about the details.

“In his (Pedro Garcia’s) own words, he was ‘gaked out,’” Torczon said.

Now that their cases have reached the district court level, the Garcias will next enter pleas to the charges against them (conspiring to and aiding and abetting first-degree murder).

Marquez is set for a preliminary hearing on July 8.

A preliminary hearing is not intended to sort out which witnesses are credible, as that’s a job reserved for a jury.

For the case to proceed, the prosecution only needs to show “probable cause” — a low legal threshold generally described as showing there’s a reasonable basis for a given charge. In contrast, to ultimately get a conviction in district court, the state must meet the substantially higher burden of proving a defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The area where Guerra-Torres' body was found.


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