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.