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Colusa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson determined last week that there is sufficient evidence for Salvador Garcia-Vaca to stand trial for the murder of Karen Garcia, his longtime sweetheart and mother of his child.
Garcia-Vaca sat in Colusa County Superior Court Thursday in shackles – and a bulletproof vest – as he listened to a police detective say Karen Garcia was likely bludgeoned to death in the bedroom of the Colusa apartment the couple once shared, and that her body was dragged through the laundry room, out a rear entrance, across a wooden deck, into the backyard, over a granite walkway, and into a waiting vehicle before being driven to Williams and later a shopping center in Woodland, where it was discovered on Jan. 14, 2018, just a few days after she was reported missing.
Garcia-Vaca, 24, who was arrested in Mexico last August after 18 months on the run, is accused of killing Karen on Jan. 8, 2018, just two days after she officially ended their nine-year relationship in an exchange of heated text messages, and one day after her younger sister, Jessica, died in a head-on collision.
Karen’s family officially reported her missing on Jan. 12 after she failed to attend her sister’s vigil.
According to law enforcement officials, Karen had just moved back into her mother’s home in Williams in late December following a domestic violence incident, for which Garcia-Vaca was charged.
Karen’s body was eventually found face down in a reclining position in the front seat of her Blue Honda Accord in the Marshall’s parking lot. As if she was taking a nap, her hips were covered with a sweatshirt and her powered-off cell phone was perched on one hip and plugged into a charger.
Investigator Sara Martin, of the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office, testified that Karen suffered a blow to the front side of her head that fractured her skull, bruising near her left eye, an abrasion near her right eye, defensive wounds to her arms and hands, and a fatal blow to the occipital lobe at the back of her head that fractured her skull and caused the brain to hemorrhage.
Martin also testified that DNA from blood taken from Karen’s body matched the DNA taken from the blood-soaked carpet in the bedroom, on a dresser, and in the laundry room. Karen’s DNA also matched a small amount of blood found in the molding of Garcia-Vaca’s car.
Lt. Chris Miller, who witnessed Karen’s autopsy, said he believed a violent altercation likely occurred inside the apartment which caused her to lose all of her acrylic nails on one hand, and that blood splatter low to the ground indicated she was near the flood when she died, and that her blood seeped deep into the carpet padding and to the floor below. Debris that matched that on the floor of the laundry room was also found in Karen’s hair and a single red-painted nail from an index finger was found on the wooden deck, which Miller said confirmed to investigators how Karen’s body was removed from the apartment.
The preliminary hearing was attended by a sprinkling of Karen’s family and closest friends, among them Johnny and Linda Quintero, who did not testify directly but whose accounts to law enforcement about the events leading up to and including the last moment they saw Karen alive as she entered the apartment to pick up her daughter and her belongings on Jan. 8, were relayed to the court by Williams Police Department officers and Colusa County District Attorney investigators who initially worked Karen’s murder as a missing person’s case.
Investigators believe the Karen was killed not long after she entered the apartment around 11 AM after she left the Riverside Inn, where she had stayed the night with James Blair, the man she became involved with after leaving Garcia-Vaca in December.
Investigators said a worried Linda Quintero had texted her friend a short time later asking her if she was “alive,” to which she received a reply, although she does not believe Karen was still alive and that it was Garcia-Vaca who used Karen’s phone throughout the same day.
The Quinteros told investigators Karen’s vehicle was gone around noon, the same time Garcia-Vaca claimed Karen left, followed by Garcia-Vaca’s car a little later.
Investigator John Sadlowski, a forensic computer expert with Woodland Police Department, testified he tracked Karen’s cell phone activity to Colusa at 12:48 PM; Williams at 5:15 PM, and Woodland at 8:32 PM.
Sadlowski said he tracked Garcia-Vaca’s cell activity to Colusa at 1:10 PM, Arbuckle at 6 PM, and Woodland at 7:19 PM.
Garcia-Vaca’s cousin, Alexander Vaca, testified that he picked up Garcia-Vaca in Woodland that evening and drove him to his mother’s home in Williams, and later to his grandmother’s home to pick up his car. Vaca also said his cousin asked him to delete all cell correspondence from that evening.
Investigators testified that numerous text message exchanges obtained from the cell phones belonging to Garcia-Vaca and Karen in the days leading up to her death showed that Karen admitted on Jan. 6 to entering a sexual relationship with Blair on Jan. 5, and that Karen told Garcia-Vaca that their relationship was officially over. Testimony also revealed that Garcia-Vaca’s Google search on Jan. 6 after Karen’s announcement involved guns and ammunition, and that he later asked his cousin for a gun on Jan. 7, but that Vaca refused because he feared Garcia-Vaca might be suicidal.
Although testimony indicated that Garcia-Vaca rejected Karen’s breakup on Jan. 6, Chief Investigator Dave Salm testified that Garcia-Vaca told him during the missing person’s investigation on Jan. 12 that the couple had broken up by mutual decision on Jan. 2 or Jan. 3, and that the pair had decided to remain friends for the sake of their child.
Garcia-Vaca returned to work in the days before Karen’s body was found. He made a tearful plea for Karen’s safety and return on television and participated in a car-tagging event on Jan. 13, after which he disappeared in a van later reported stolen by his uncle.
Garcia-Vaca was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service in Mexico on Aug. 3 and returned to Colusa, where he has been held in the Colusa County Jail pending court proceedings.
While Judge Thompson said testimony and evidence has determined sufficient cause for Garcia-Vaca to stand trial for Karen’s murder, Garcia-Vaca’s defense attorney Mathew C. Smith raised a number of issues at the preliminary hearing during cross examination of the witnesses.
Smith confirmed that multiple people had access to Karen’s phone, pass codes, bank account, and apartment. He also confirmed that phone-to-tower communication is poor during bad weather and that rerouting often occurs, as well, during increased call volume.
Smith also confirmed that no surveillance video has been found placing Garcia-Vaca in the Woodland parking lot, and that Karen’s text messages to Linda Quintero in the days before her death indicated she was not interested in a longterm relationship with Blair and feared he would get too attached.
Garcia-Vaca has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.
He is scheduled to be arraigned on the new information on Feb19. ■