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Change of venue expected in Colusa murder case

The man accused of killing 21-year-old Karen Garcia in 2018 will appear in Colusa County Superior Court on Sept. 16, where his attorney could file a motion for a change of venue.

Salvador Garcia-Vaca, 24, whose court proceedings to set a trial date were continued from Aug. 19, is charged with the brutal slaying of his longtime girlfriend, inside the Colusa apartment they once shared.

The couple had been together since they were in junior high school, and were the parents of a 2-year-old daughter at the time of Karen’s death on Jan. 8, 2018, from blunt force trauma to the head, an autopsy would later reveal.

Karen Garcia’s case garnered massive media coverage, particularly in Colusa and Yolo counties, when she was reported missing by her family and friends on Jan. 12, 2018, after she failed to show up for a candlelight vigil for her sister Jessica, who was killed along with four of her friends in a fiery head-on collision with a wrong-way drunk driver on Interstate-5, near Woodland, just five days earlier.

In the days after Karen’s disappearance, Garcia-Vaca, in a tearful televised interview, pleaded for his girlfriend’s safe return. He also participated in a massive social media campaign titled “Bring Karen Home,” and a car-tagging event in Williams on Jan. 13, 2018, before reportedly absconding to Mexico as police were closing in.

Karen Garcia’s decomposing body was found facedown on Jan. 14, 2019, inside her car in a Woodland parking lot. Her body had been posed as if she were sleeping, covered with a sweatshirt, and with her cell phone, which had been connected to the charger, resting on one hip, investigators testified at Vaca’s preliminary hearing earlier this year.

With a $10,000 reward offered for his capture, and following a major feature by John Walsh in the television series “In Pursuit,” a tip led to Garcia-Vaca’s arrest by the U.S. Marshals Service in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico on Aug. 1, 2019. He was extradited back to the Colusa County Jail, where he has remained in custody awaiting trial.

Garcia-Vaca is charged with one count of felony murder, with a special enhancement of lying in wait, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He is also charged with battery stemming from a separate incident in December, 2017, that occurred a few weeks before Karen’s death.

Karen’s family said the incident, the night of Granzella’s Christmas party, led to Karen moving back into her mother’s house in Williams, and Karen’s admission to her family that she was a victim of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her jealous boyfriend.

Garcia-Vaca, who is represented by Yuba City Defense Attorney Matthew C. Smith, has pleaded not guilty to the battery charge, as well.

Under California law, Garcia-Vaca is innocent until proven guilty, and can request a change of venue on the likelihood he cannot receive a fair trial in Colusa County.

That likelihood could be due to the negative pretrial publicity surrounding the case.

Since her murder, Karen’s friends and coworkers have vowed to keep Karen’s memory alive in the community, and have formed “Karen’s House,” a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence successfully escape their abusers.

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