Salvador Gacia-Vaca, 24, the man accused of killing 21-year-old Williams native Karen Garcia-Romero in 2018, pleaded guilty on Nov. 17 to voluntary manslaughter and other serious charges.
Gacia-Vaca is facing 25 or more years in prison when he is sentenced in Colusa County Superior Court on Jan. 6, 2021, nearly three years to the day after Karen was bludgeoned to death inside the Colusa apartment the couple had shared with their then 2-year-old daughter.
“The decision to resolve this case was not an easy one,” said Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp. “I had numerous heartfelt conversations with the victim’s family explaining the state of the evidence and listening to their concerns.”
Garcia-Vaca admitted to killing the woman he had professed to love on Jan. 8, 2018, after Karen, in a series of text messages, had permanently ended their turbulent relationship.
“The recently jilted defendant admitted that he killed Karen Garcia-Romero in a fit of spontaneous rage and jealousy,” Beauchamp stated, in a press release. “But intent to kill is only one of the elements necessary to prove a murder charge. Heat of passion negates malice according to well established legal principals.”
In addition to manslaughter, Garcia-Vaca pleaded guilty to charges admitting a weapons enhancement, kidnapping, and robbery, along with the felony corporal injury to Karen that occurred on Dec. 6, a month prior to her death on the night of the Granzella’s Christmas party.
At the time of her death, Karen had been living with her mother in Williams because of the domestic violence incident, after which Gacia-Vaca was arrested for battery. It was then that Karen admitted to her family that she was the victim of repeated abuse stemming from Garcia Vaca’s jealousy, her sister had said in a televised interview months after the murder.
After killing Karen in a fit of rage, Garcia Vaca dragged her body through their apartment, with her dark brown hair picking up traces of glitter from the Christmas decorations that still adorned the home. Forensic evidence showed that Karen was dragged out the back door of the Oak Street apartment, down the wooden steps and into the alley, before her body was placed inside the trunk of a waiting vehicle.
Karen’s decomposing body was discovered six days later, on Jan. 14, in a Woodland parking lot. Her body had been placed in the driver’s seat of her car in a reclining position with her face down and obscured by her hair. She was covered with a sweater and had her charging cell-phone perched on one hip to appear as if she was napping.
In the days after Karen’s disappearance, Garcia-Vaca, in a tearful televised interview, pleaded for his beloved’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.
With a $10,000 reward offered for his capture, and following a major feature by John Walsh in the television series “In Pursuit,” in February, 2019, a tip led to Garcia-Vaca’s arrest by U.S. Marshals Service in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on Aug. 1, 2019, and he was extradited back to the Colusa County Jail, where he will remain pending sentencing.
Karen’s death at the hand of the young man she had dated since Junior High was a terrible blow to the community and a double tragedy for her family.
Karen’s 19-year-old sister, Jessica Garcia-Romero, had been killed along with her four friends by a drunk driver in a head-on collision on Interstate 5 – just one day prior to Karen’s murder.
Family and friends of the Romeros had immediately suspected something was terribly wrong when Karen failed to show up for Jessica’s memorial. Most had immediately suspected Garcia-Vaca had done her harm.
“After looking at all the facts of the case, both good and bad, as well as looking at important procedural issues and recognizing I had a critical yet recalcitrant witness, I determined that it would be extremely difficult to prove malice beyond a reasonable doubt,” Beauchamp said. “There is no question the defendant killed Ms. Garcia-Romero. The question at trial would be whether he killed her in the heat of passion or with malice. Without malice there is no murder conviction. The last thing I wanted was for the defendant to be convicted solely of voluntary manslaughter and be released from prison after six or 11 years.”
In addition to a likely sentence of 25 years, Garcia-Vaca agreed to forfeit the 18 months he has already spent in jail while awaiting trial, which would normally be credited toward his sentence.
Since her murder, Karen’s friends and coworkers have vowed to keep the young mother’s memory alive, and have formed “Karen’s House,” a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence successfully escape their abusers.