Boy Arrested In Arizona For Michael Garcia Murder
Teen could be charged as an adult.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell; Home Front-in April Michael Angel Garcia was shot and killed near the East Salinas house where he grew up. Police apprehended the alleged killer in Yuma, Ariz last week.
Local sheriff''s deputies and Salinas city detectives arrested a Salinas boy in Yuma, Arizona, on the afternoon of May 22, as a suspect in Michael Angel Garcia''s shooting death.
The suspect remains unidentified for now. But authorities may decide to charge the suspect as an adult, at which point his identity would be revealed.
For now, police will only say he''s a suspected Sureno gang member and a resident of Salinas.
As of Tuesday, the suspect was in custody in Yuma. He reportedly waived his right to an extradition hearing for transport to California. He''s expected in Salinas by week''s end.
According to police, more than one source provided clues to the identity of the suspected shooter in mid-May, a month after Garcia''s death.
The Weekly published a cover story about Garcia''s life and death on May 16. The 18-year-old was shot and killed on the night of April 17, only a few doors away from his childhood home on Rider Avenue in East Salinas. He was walking home from a neighbor''s house with his younger brother Julian.
Although Garcia had had some scrapes with the law as a younger man, at the time of his death he was on the straight and narrow. He''d started a new job and had been talking to a Marine Corps recruiter about joining the service. Importantly, in a Salinas neighborhood rife with gang activity, Garcia had tried to stay out of the ongoing battles between deadly rivals Nortenos and Surenos.
Investigators said at the time that although Garcia was not a member of a gang, they consider the shooting "gang-related." After the killing, detectives offered no single or clear motive, though they believe Garcia did somehow know his assailant.
"Witnesses came forward," says Sgt. Manny Perrien, chief of the city detective squad. "We had information from multiple people leading us to believe he was the person responsible.
Perrien would not say if the suspect confessed.
"We believe we have a strong case but we''re not going to release details," Perrien says. "Even though an arrest has been made, this investigation is still very active."
Detectives were able to track down the suspect, who was on county probation at the time. Searches of two residences in Salinas were conducted along with the arrest. Because of his probation status, detectives had important information.
"We knew where he was," said one probation officer.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Harter says the charge will be murder. However, it has not been decided yet whether the suspect will be tried as an adult under the state law known as Proposition 21.
"We''re going to make that determination once we get all the reports," she says.
Passed in 2000 by California voters, Proposition 21 specifically addresses juvenile gang-related crime. Harter says that if the case stays in Juvenile Court, the longest a guilty defendant could serve in the juvenile corrections system-known as California Youth Authority-is up to age 25. If the suspect is tried as an adult and found guilty, he could face life in prison.
Harter says the authorities will have to look at the suspect''s background and the significance of the crime to decide if the suspect will be charged in adult court.
"You just have to look at the whole picture," she says.
The news of the arrest came as a relief to the Garcia family. Michael Garcia''s sister Lorraine says the police called to say an arrest had been made, but would only say that they had a 17-year-old in custody.
"They said they have strong evidence it is him," Lorraine said.
The arrest was announced just before the Memorial Day weekend.
"We''re taking it as good news," Lorraine said. "It brings a little bit of closure. But we can''t say it is closure because we have to go through a trial and all that."
The Garcia family is grateful too for other news. This winter, Michael earned a diploma from Everett Alvarez High School. After his death there had been some question about whether or not his name would be read along with the other graduates at the commencement ceremony on June 13. Arrangements are now in place for Michael''s mother to receive his diploma during the ceremony.
"They''re going to name his name as if he was there," says another sister, Sandra Garcia.