A judge today denied two motions filed by the defense, one to acquit the defendant of four murder charges and one to reconsider excluding a statement in the retrial of a Cathedral City man accused of gunning down four people in Palm Springs.
Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia, 23, is being tried on four counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 3, 2019, deaths of Jacob Montgomery, 19; Juan Duarte Raya, 18; Yuliana Garcia, 17; and Carlos Campos Rivera, 25.
The charges include a special-circumstance allegation of multiple murders and sentence- enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
Jurors in his first trial deliberated over seven days and indicated March 8 they were deadlocked. A new jury was sworn in on Sept. 26, 2022.
Larin-Garcia's defense attorneys, John Patrick Dolan and Anthony Valente, filed a motion to acquit the defendant of the four murder charges due to what they call a lack of substantial evidence to prove he intentionally murdered all four people.
Dolan said Tuesday that there was no evidence at all to prove it was the defendant because there's no proof of him having a gun in the vehicle and because Garcia's blood was never found on him. He additionally pointed to alleged incriminating statements made by John Olvera, then 15.
At the end of the first hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos denied the defense motion, saying there was sufficient evidence because defendant's shoes and jacket had blood from two of the victims, and a casing found in Larin-Garcia's vehicle was fired from the same type of gun used in the crime.
The defense also filed a motion for reconsideration to leave in a statement from Officer Luciano Colantuono of the Palm Springs Police Department, who spoke with Larin-Garcia after he was found hiding under a truck.
Colantuono testified that Larin-Garcia was breathing heavily, appeared nervous and kept looking around when he spoke to him the night of the fatal shootings.
"I tried to reassure him that he would be OK ... he said `how can I be OK if I just witnessed a murder?'' Colantuono said.
The defense said the statement should be left in because it was spontaneous as the defendant was answering a question from law enforcement, but Villalobos said that evidence in this trial shows that Larin-Garcia made at least two phone calls before speaking to Colantuono, which is enough time for it to not be a spontaneous statement.
At the end of the hearing Tuesday, he denied that motion.
The defense and prosecution will return Wednesday morning to the Larson Justice Center for a motion to dismiss the case, in which Dolan claims that handling of evidence was an "intentional destruction and neglectful loss of and tampering with evidence,'' violating Larin-Garcia's right to a fair retrial.
During opening statements on Sept. 28, 2022, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao told jurors that three of the shooting victims were found in a green Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads about 11:40 p.m. the night of the killings, while the fourth victim -- Rivera -- was found on a street about a half-mile away.
Montgomery, Raya and Garcia were killed inside the car, authorities said.
Prosecutors contend Larin-Garcia was in the car, first killing Rivera as he stood outside the vehicle, then killing the others because they had witnessed the first shooting.
Dolan, however, pointed to social media posts and messages allegedly made by Olvera suggesting they implicate him in the killings. He also pointed to a private conversation between Olvera and a woman, in which Olvera allegedly said, "Jacob thought I was playin' -- he shouldn't have had a kid female in the car cuz he knew I was gonna get him'' and ``I never meant that girl to die."
The message allegedly referred to one of the shooting victims, Jacob Montgomery.
"Mr. Olvera took credit for this, he's the person you should betrying on this case,'' Dolan said.
During both trials, Olvera denied any involvement in the killings, saying any posts on Facebook and Instagram were unfounded boasts or lyrics by rapper Young Boy.
During closing arguments in the first trial, Paixao dismissed the messages, saying facts in the case did not align with what Olvera claimed occurred. For instance, Olvera claims he was shot at first, when evidence indicates only one firearm was involved.
In both of Larin-Garcia's trials, Dolan created a scene for the jury in which Olvera was in the middle seat of the car shooting the passengers, and that Larin-Garcia jumped from the vehicle when the killings began. But Paixao argued there was no evidence to suggest a fifth person was in the vehicle, pointing to eyewitness testimony of only four people being present.
Paixao said Larin-Garcia was inside the Corolla with the three victims, and that Montgomery was planning to make a drug deal. The defendant was in the back seat when he allegedly fatally shot Rivera, who was leaning against the car on Canon Drive, south of Theresa Drive, Paixao said.
After the shooting, the driver of the Corolla sped off, but Larin-Garcia allegedly shot the driver as well as the other two occupants, then jumped from the moving car before it crashed into a parked Jeep at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads, according to the prosecution.
According to Paixao, blood on Larin-Garcia's shoes and jacket had the DNA of the victims on it, placing him inside the vehicle at the time of the murders. She further argued that bullet casings at the crime scene matched those that were found in the defendant's bedroom and vehicle, further attaching him to the events.
Dolan asserted during his closing argument that the blood splatter identified on Larin-Garcia's clothing did not prove murder, and there was no search for a gun the prosecution claims he used in the crime, only bullet casings.
According to preliminary hearing testimony, Larin-Garcia was found by officers hiding under a pickup just blocks from the scene of the Corolla crash. He was taken to Desert Regional Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries but was not arrested.
The defendant left the hospital after being questioned by Palm Springs police, going to a friend's house. Det. Steve Grissom testified that the friend went to the defendant's mother's home to retrieve fresh clothing and an ID card for the defendant. 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 bus station in Indio, where Larin-Garcia was arrested, Grissom testified.
Larin-Garcia remains held without bail at the Benoit Detention Center in Indio.
An undercover officer who spoke with Larin-Garcia while posing as a jail inmate testified that the defendant admitted fearing that officers had obtained his gun as evidence, though Larin-Garcia never admitted to a specific crime and the gun has never been found.