Colusa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson last week upheld a special allegation charge that accuses Salvador Garcia-Vaca of planning his former girlfriend’s murder possibly days before she was bludgeoned to death inside the Colusa apartment they once shared.
Karen Garcia, with whom Vaca had a daughter, was killed around 11 AM on Jan. 8, 2018 in a blitz attack from behind, according to the Colusa County District’s Attorney’s Office, within minutes of entering the apartment.
Although the “lying in wait” charge would make Vaca eligible for the death penalty, if he is convicted of Karen’s Garcia’s murder, Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp confirmed that the prosecution would not seek the death penalty in this case for a number of reasons, including Garcia’s age, the volatile nature of the couple’s break-up, and the exorbitant cost to Colusa County to put forth a capital murder prosecution.
Garcia-Vaca appeared in court June 17 with attorney Matthew C. Smith, of Yuba City, who argued to have the “lying in wait” allegation dismissed.
Smith said there was no evidence that Karen Garcia was killed immediately upon entering her apartment because she had changed her clothes, and no evidence that the former couple had communicated with each other that Karen would be at the apartment that morning. He also suggested there was no evidence that the couple’s daughter was at the apartment in the care of her father that day, which many believe was the reason for the visit.
Vaca has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including felony murder.
The special allegation of “lying in wait” was added to the felony murder charge after Garcia-Vaca’s Jan. 21 preliminary hearing in which law enforcement officials testified that on the evening of their Jan 6 breakup, Garcia-Vaca was caught by Karen’s sister lurking in the dark inside their mother’s house in Williams, where Karen was staying after a domestic violence incident in December, for which Garcia-Vaca is also charged.
Investigators said Karen Garcia was not home at the time, and that Garcia-Vaca fled immediately after he was discovered.
At that same hearing, Vaca’s cousin, Alexander Vaca, testified that his cousin had asked him for a gun the day before Karen’s death, but that he refused to give him one, fearing he might be suicidal.
Karen was reportedly last seen by her friends entering the apartment around 11 AM on Jan. 8 after spending the night at the Riverside Inn with co-worker and new boyfriend, James Blair, who expected her to return to the hotel a short time later.
Karen Garcia was not seen alive again. Her body was found inside her car in a shopping center parking lot in Woodland on Jan. 14. An autopsy performed on the body showed a skull fracture to the right side of her head above the ear and a skull fracture on the back of her head, which resulted in brain hemorrhage and death, along with defensive wounds to her hands, according to the coroner.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brenden Farrell said the lying in wait charge is supported in that Karen’s friends and neighbors, who were concerned for her safety when she entered the apartment, heard no sound of an argument or physical confrontation, suggesting the murder occured without provacation.
Farrell also indicated that Garcia-Vaca arranged to have the day off work in advance, supposedly to help Karen’s family with the funeral arrangements of Jessica Garcia, who was killed, along with four friends, in a head-on collision with a drunk driver on Jan. 7, even though Karen Garcia had asked him to stay away.
The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Garcia-Vaca in Mexico on Aug. 4, 2019, after 18 months on the run.
Before he fled, Garcia-Vaca gave a tearful interview to the media and organized a “car-tagging” event hoping to raise awareness to Karen’s disappearance.
Although Garcia-Vaca claimed in the early days of the investigation that his breakup with Karen had been amicable, and that the two agreed to remain friends for the sake of their child, cell phone records indicate otherwise, according to investigators.
Garcia-Vaca is schedule to next appear in court on Aug. 19 for the setting of trial for battery, felony murder, and the speical allegation of lying in wait. ■