Friday, October 14, 2011

The Impending Execution of Frank Martinez Garcia

Frank Martinez Garcia sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 27 October. I think there is zero chance he will survive the day. I summarize the State's case against Garcia by excerpting from the appellate decision Garcia v. Thaler (2009). Throughout the excerpts, I've substituted the word "petitioner" with "Garcia" or "Frank Garcia" to make for easier reading.
On the morning of March 29, 2001, Frank Garcia fatally shot uniformed San Antonio Police Officer Hector Garza and Garcia's wife Jessica inside the home Garcia shared with Jessica, their children, and Garcia's parents. There is no genuine dispute about that fact. After subsequently firing several shots at others outside the Garcia residence, wounding one person, and causing damage to a nearby elementary school, Garcia surrendered to police and gave a formal, written statement in which he admitted to intentionally killing both officer Garza and Jessica. ...

The guilt-innocence phase of Garcia's capital murder trial commenced on February 4, 2002. In addition to the testimony summarized above, Garcia's jury also heard testimony from forensic and firearms experts regarding (1) the MAC-10 semi-automatic weapon and the Egyptian-made AK-47 assault rifle Garcia used to shoot Officer Garza and Jessica, (2) ballistics evidence about the shell casings and bullet fragments found at the crime scene, and (3) testimony regarding the blood, blood spatter, and other trace evidence recovered from the crime scene and Garcia's clothing. The foregoing testimony corroborated those portions of Garcia's written statement in which he admitted to having emptied both the semi-automatic pistol and assault rifle following his fatal shooting of Officer Garza and Jessica. The defense presented no witnesses or other evidence during the guilt-innocence phase of Garcia's capital murder trial. On February 8, 2002, after deliberating less than three hours, Garcia's jury returned a verdict of guilty.
From Footnote 1.
The autopsy of Officer Garza revealed (1) he died as a result of four gun shot wounds, each of which would have been fatal alone, (2) the four shots struck Garza, respectively, in the head, two in the back of the neck, and one in the abdomen, which penetrated the lungs and aorta, (3) the shot through Garza's chest was likely the first to strike him, (4) the shots to Garza's chest and head came from a non-high-velocity weapon, and (5) the two shots which struck Garza in the neck came from a high velocity weapon, exited through the skull, and caused massive damage to the brain and cranial vault.

The autopsy performed on the body of Jessica Garcia revealed (1) she died as a result of three gunshot wounds, only one of which would have been fatal alone, (2) the fatal gunshot struck Jessica in the left forehead, fractured her orbital area, and penetrated through the midbrain, (3) the two, non-fatal shots struck her in the right cheek and her chin, (4) all the gunshots which struck Jessica came from a non-high-velocity weapon, and (5) the latter two gunshot wounds likely struck Jessica while she was down on the floor.
From Footnote 2.
Several witnesses testified to having personally witnessed Garcia firing two different weapons at persons located outside the Garcia residence on the morning of the fatal shootings.

A friend of Jessica testified (1) an emotional Jessica called her on the morning of the fatal shootings and asked her to help Jessica move out, (2) after securing assistance from John and Rosario Luna, she rode with the Lunas to Jessica's residence, (3) Garcia's mother interfered with their efforts to help Jessica remove clothing and other personal items from the Garcia residence, (4) she overheard Jessica telling Garcia over the phone that Jessica was leaving him, (5) Garcia arrived at the Garcia home before the police and Garcia grabbed Jessica in a head lock and dragged her back inside the Garcia home, (6) moments later a police officer walked inside the Garcia home, (7) a few minutes after the officer entered the house, she heard three-to-four shots in rapid succession come from inside the house, (8) after a pause, she heard a second series of approximately three shots come from inside the house, (9) Garcia then emerged from the house, pointed a firearm, and fired several shots, at least a few of which struck their vehicle, (10) Garcia fired at her and John Luna as they attempted to flee the scene toward a nearby elementary school, (11) Garcia went back inside the house and she heard several more shots, (12) Garcia emerged from the house a second time holding a big rifle and fired that weapon, striking the truck behind which she was hiding, i.e., the same truck Garcia had driven to the scene, and (13) she saw Garcia chasing after John Luna as she fled for the safety of the school.

The then-vice-principal of the nearby Emma Frey Elementary School testified (1) she noticed a police vehicle in front of the Garcia residence when she arrived at school around 7:30 that morning, (2) she later noticed the police vehicle was gone when she saw Jessica outside the Garcia residence between 8:45 and 8:50, (3) around nine a.m. she was alerted to a problem by other staff, (4) as she exited the campus building near the Garcia residence, she saw a man later identified for her as John Luna running toward her who was yelling "Get out of here. He's shooting at everyone," (5) she looked toward the Garcia residence and saw a man in the yard holding a rifle, who then pointed it at her or in her direction, (6) as she and Luna attempted to flee away from the Garcia residence, she heard four shots, (7) the school custodian let her and Luna inside the school, (8) once inside the school, she climbed to the second floor, ordered the school locked down, telephoned school district police, and looked out and saw Garcia with the rifle in the front yard of the Garcia residence walking away from the school, and (9) subsequent examination of the school's exterior disclosed several indentations in the front doors, as well as a hole in a window screen that had not been present before the shootings.

The San Antonio Police Officer who arrested Garcia testified (1) he knocked repeatedly and announced himself before entering the Garcia residence, (2) he heard a box of bullets hit the floor and footsteps running his direction, (3) he heard a rifle racking and smelled gunpowder and blood, (4) Garcia came out and pointed an assault rifle at him, (5) when Garcia saw the officer's weapon, Garcia retreated, shouted "I give up," and threw down his rifle, and (6) Garcia thereafter offered no resistance.

In his five-page, formal, written statement executed only hours after the fatal shootings, ... Garcia admits he deliberately fired at officer Garza's head multiple times and then turned his weapon on his wife.
I find no one arguing that Frank Garcia is anything other than absolutely guilty of the crimes for which he is scheduled to die. The case, however, presents an interesting twist regarding Frank's mother. From a schizophrenic editorial in the San Antonio Express News, on 6/30/2001.
It was all about the grandchildren. Eustacia Garcia didn't want to lose them.

According to several reports, she was willing to let her daughter-in-law leave, just not with the children.

Jessica wasn't about to abandon her babies to the man who is alleged to have battered her for seven years, nor to the in-laws who'd let him.

No matter how we imagine that horrific situation, we cannot imagine Eustacia and her husband, Francisco -- who shared that same, small three-bedroom house -- weren't aware that Frank, Jr. beat Jessica. Often. Viciously.

According to a grand jury indictment, when Jessica started packing -- shortly after Frank, Jr., had left for work -- Eustacia tried to stop her. First, she called the police, but Veteran San Antonio Officer Hector Garza explained that Jessica had the right to leave, the right to take her own children with her.

So Eustacia called her son.

Jessica nearly escaped. The car was loaded. Reports indicate she was just gathering the children, just ready to leave when Frank arrived.

He is charged with shooting her to death.

He is also charged with the shooting death of Officer Garza, after Garza had responded for the second time that day.

This would not have happened, contends the Bexar County District Attorney's office, if Eustacia Garcia had just let Jessica leave, so they've charged her with voluntary manslaughter.

"Eustacia was aware of the circumstances. She was aware her son was violent, would be violent and that Jessica was trying to leave when Frank wasn't home in order to avoid violence. Knowing there was a substantial risk, Eustacia acted recklessly in calling Frank, Jr.," explains First Assistant District Attorney Michael Bernard.

That, in a nutshell, is the definition of voluntary manslaughter, "consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk."

Why did Eustacia call her vicious, possessive, violent son? Didn't she think that at the very least, he'd beat Jessica?

For seven years, Eustacia allowed abuse to permeate her home. Perhaps she believed family unity must be preserved, no matter how painful the circumstances.

Perhaps she considered abuse a normal part of marriage. Maybe Eustacia was also a battered wife. But Bernard says there is "no indication that Eustacia was abused."

Some see Eustacia as a victim, accused of a crime because she tried to protect her family. This perspective assumes Eustacia thought Frank could prevent the children from leaving. It asks how she could have known her son would commit murder.

But family loyalty cannot supersede the dictates of common sense. If Frank had robbed a bank and Eustacia had driven the car, she'd be criminally responsible -- even if she'd planned a non-violent robbery.

In this case, we don't even have that assumption. Eustacia allegedly knew Frank had beaten Jessica before. Of course he'd beat her again. Obviously, violence often causes death.

By calling her son, Eustacia created the situation that killed Jessica. And for that, she must be held criminally responsible.

But before we condemn Eustacia completely, we should remember that she is a grandmother, terrified of losing her grandchildren, her living legacies, her immortality.

As we approach our end and wonder what will survive when we're gone, we realize the only thing that endures is life itself. The life we live through our children, and their children, for generations on end.

What would we do, to protect our legacy?
With respect to the propriety of executing Frank Garcia, I stand mute. With respect to charging his mother with manslaughter, I solicit your comments.

The next impending execution we will consider will be that of Hank Skinner. Prepare to be amazed.


Anonymous said...

umm, no.

"If Frank had robbed a bank and Eustacia had driven the car, she'd be criminally responsible -- even if she'd planned a non-violent robbery."

Robbing a bank is a crime whether done violently or not. Calling your son to alert him to the fact that his wife and children are running away may be a shitty thing to do, but it is not a crime, even if it leads to violence, even if you knew if it most likely would. Frank has rights with respect to his children also.

There was no conspiracy to commit a crime here. Eustacia is guilty of stupidity, but the attempt to hold her responsible for murder is akin to blaming a rape victim for wearing a too short a skirt. -- J

The Skeptical Spouse said...

I don't see any way Eustacia didn't know her son was violent toward his wife. What I see is a grandmother far more concerned with *possessing* her grandchildren, than with the trauma they would suffer from losing their mother, whether she just left without them or was beaten or killed. Her indifference to the fate of her daughter-in-law is clear.

All of Eustacia's actions were aimed toward stopping those children from leaving. When the police wouldn't back her up, she called someone who would. And it seems that she knew her son would use whatever means necessary, up to and including violence against Jessica. Calling him was equivalent to getting a loaded gun out in the middle of an argument. It's not a crime in and of itself, but it's really hard to convince anyone, after the gun goes off, that you didn't mean for anything bad to happen.

It's a thin line between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, as intent is crucial to the decision, but I suspect when Eustacia called Frank, she knew what could happen, and may have wanted it to happen, to end the threat of losing her grandchildren, once and for all.

Anonymous said...

"A friend of Jessica testified...(4) she overheard Jessica telling Garcia over the phone that Jessica was leaving him,"

Unless there is a typo here, it seems Jessica told Garcia herself that she was leaving, and this is why he came home to stop her. It is possible that Eustacia was the one who called him and afterwards gave the phone to Jessica, but that isn't clear. Before it's possible to even consider the manslaughter charge, it should be clearly established that Eustacia was in fact the one who called Garcia and told him the situation.

Given that she did, however, then if I understand the difference correctly, Eustacia is almost certainly guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but probably not voluntary.


Anonymous said...

Mute also on Garcia, but for the mother, it is an interesting question...not sure the robbery metaphor holds as that is direct criminal facilitation; however, if you serve a drunk driver and let them get behind the wheel, in most states you're liable too. Here, we have a woman who not only knows her son is violent but also that he has easy access to aggressive weaponry. So the question hinges, or might hinge, on her motives in calling her son.

In that regard, I find two elements really interesting.

First, what was the actual order of the phone calls to the son and cops?

If she called her son and THEN the cops, she is arguably "notifying" her son and then calling the cops to stop the mother from leaving. It would imply she didn't think the son would / could stop her, and she wanted legal assistance. In most cases, I would think this would be the "normal" sequence -- people don't call the cops as their first response if they have an "easier" solution.

But if she indeed called the cops and then the son, it looks like she "failed" to get assistance and then called her son to solve it (more difficult to then argue she's just notifying him of what's happening, harder to claim she wasn't looking for his help).

The other element would be if we have any idea what she said and/or if she had ever called him before when there was a problem. Had Grandma ever tattled on the mother before and the son came home and beat her? If so, then she would know the violence was likely. Or if she called and said "Get home and stop her", then she's more liable.

Unless there is a bit more evidence than the fact that a phone call was made, I think if I'm on the jury, I doubt I am able to convict ... depending too on the state, and if act is sufficient to establish "motive" against what a reasonable person would have expected to happen, or if evidence of her actual state of mind (i.e. her "real motive") can be presented -- a good psych defence would be desensitization after years of violence in the home and therefore skewed view of risk, which she personally didn't feel when calling the father, as well as perhaps feeling "obligated" to call him out of fear i.e. she'll get abused for not telling him.

On the other hand, if she covered up earlier beatings, I'm willing to convict on those crimes as accessories after the fact.


Anonymous said...

Based on what I just read on Wikipedia, I’d say the DA could make a better case the victim’s mother in-law is guilty of involuntary manslaughter versus voluntary manslaughter.

Wikipedia’s definition -

“Involuntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought. It is distinguished from voluntary manslaughter by the absence of intention. It is normally divided into two categories; constructive manslaughter and criminally negligent manslaughter.”

As a juror, it wouldn’t take too much to convince me the mother in-law was aware of the abuse and that therefore any reasonable person would understand the risks she was placing her daughter in-law in by calling her son.
Proving malice as an aforethought, which is necessary for her to be guilty of voluntary manslaughter, seems much more difficult given she states her concern centered on her grand kids, and in fact she would have let the daughter leave without them.

Seven years of witnessing abuse and then placing a phone call to the serial abuser informing him his wife is leaving makes her criminally negligent in my mind.


Anonymous said...

The friend mention was actually Jessica's step-mother. The question being ask was did the MIL call her son first or the Police. There were two calls made to the police first one by Eustacia and second by the step-mother. The answer to that is she call her son first and didn't get an answer because he was out of his work truck making deliveries and left him a message to call home. Then call the police. When the officer told the MIL Jessica could leave with her children she waited for the son to call back When he finally call home the MIL gave Jessica the phone and that is when Jessica told him she was leaveing him because he treated her likes@##$ and she was tired of being beaten he had beat her the night before. In the meantime Frank's father was overheard telling the step-mother "Jessica wasn't leaving unless she left in a bodybag." What couldn't be proven was if Eustacia was physically holding Jessica back because her step-mother was out by the curb yelling for Jessica to hurry up they needed to leave. It wasn't until Frank pull up to the front of the house in the work truck that is very loud that Jessica step out of the house into a head-lock by Frank and dragged back inside. According to Eustacia she was aware of the guns as he was a known gun collector. Eustacia said she didn't think Frank would use the guns since she was in the same room holding the 5year old and 16month boy but that didn't stop Frank after he shot the officer and his wife he stood on the front porch shooting at everyone with his mother standing next to him on the porch not saying a word while holding the children splatter in blood. Let it also be known that the children were finally taken away and adopted by a good family. Eustacia lost the children forever as their names were also changed. Eustacia pleaded no contest to a charge of criminal negligence and receive a year in prison. Jessica was married to Frank since she was 14years and was beaten for the six years they were married while living under the same roof as Eustacia and Franks father. Did Eustacia know what he would would do if she ever tried leaving him again. The answer is Yes the whole family knew everyone. However, the Garcia family are a close knit family and as long as it wasn't a Garcia member being beaten it was alright. Eustacia didn't pull the trigger but she knew all about the threats and heard the beatings to Jessica. The Garcia clan knew how to keep quiet about Jessica and Eustacia.
13th Juror

tsj said...

13th Juror,
Thank you for the information. How is it that you know such details of the case?

Also, thank you for letting everyone know that the children were adopted by a good family.

Anonymous said...

Did frank martinez garcia have siblings? What high school did he complete 12 grade

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