According to court records, Garcia-Vaca has never given a full statement to authorities about what really happened the day he killed his longtime girlfriend, 21-year-old Karen Romero Garcia on his 22nd birthday, but only that he admitted using a pistol to inflict the emotional and physical pain that resulted in her death from a brain hemorrhage.
An autopsy showed that Karen suffered a blow to the right side of her head above the ear that tore her scalp, defensive blows to her hands, and a tearing blow to the back of her head that caused her death.
Court records indicate that Karen’s blood was found in the apartment the couple shared in Colusa, in Karen’s vehicle, where the body was discovered, and Garcia-Vaca’s vehicle.
Officials believe, based on cell phone data, that Garcia-Vaca drove his car to his mother’s house in Williams after killing Karen around 11 AM on Jan. 8.
He then got a ride back to Colusa, where he dragged Karen’s body out the back door, and placed her in her own car. He then drove her dead body to a Woodland parking lot, where he positioned it to look as if she was sleeping, before getting a ride from his cousin back to his mother’s home.
Garcia-Vaca was sentenced to 11 years for voluntary manslaughter, which the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office accepted in a plea deal as a “heat of passion” killing, and 10 years, additional and consecutive, for the use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
Garcia-Vaca also received 20 months for kidnapping and 16 months for residential robbery, after taking Karen’s car keys and using her vehicle to transport her body out of Colusa County. Garcia-Vaca was also sentenced to one year for battery, regarding the Dec. 6 domestic violence incident that led to the couple’s breakup before Karen’ death.
The plea deal that dismissed the charge of felony murder, was made against the family’s wishes.
“I think that the appropriate sentence for this person, Salvador, be life and never to get out of prison,” wrote Karen’s mother, Gloria Romero Herrera, in a statement to the judge. “I think he should die in prison. I personally fear if he gets lesser years, he will be released to the streets and cause more harm against my family again. That is my biggest fear and it won’t let me live in peace.”
Romero, who also lost her daughter Jessica in a head on collision with a drunk driver the day before Karen’s death, said she will never know what truly happened that day, but believes Garcia-Vaca showed no compassion for a person as unique and beautiful as Karen, and that she will never be able to forgive him the immense pain he has caused.
“The loss of Karen has had a tremendous impact on my family, friends, and the whole community,” said Romero, who is raising the couple’s 5-year-old daughter. “But in myself, personally, it has caused fear, anger and sadness. Since this happened, it is difficult for me to simply go outside and feel safe. It is also difficult to smile, socialize with people, believe in people, to concentrate on daily activities or my work, to make my own decisions and to also sleep.”
Karen’s sister, Ana Garica Singh, sat quietly sobbing in the courtroom as Garcia-Vaca’s sentence was handed down.
She, and other members of Karen’s family who attended the proceeding, said they were still too traumatized, almost three years to the day after Jessica’s and Karen’s deaths, to give their victim’s impact statements in open court.
Singh, who filed the missing person’s report the day Karen’s failed to show up for her sister’s vigil, said in a written statement that she knew in her heart that Salvador Garcia had something to do with her disappearance.
“I did not have evidence or anything, just a strange feeling inside me,” she said.
Singh, like her mother and other remaining siblings, Gerardo Garcia Romero and Joselin Garcia Romero, had asked the judge for a life sentence for their sister’s killer.
“Life will never be the same without Karen,” Singh wrote. “Sometimes, Avianna asks when is my mommy coming back or when is my mommy taking me back home or where is my mommy? Those questions are so difficult to answer; these questions are like a knife going through your heart.”
Gerado Romero and his wife, Laura Duran Silva, asked the judge to sentence Garca-Vaca to 100 or more years in prison for Karen’s death and the pain he inflicted on the Romero family.
“It is a pain and suffering so great not to have my sister Karen with us anymore,” Romero wrote. “To see my niece suffer for the absence of her mom, the same as we suffer. We need her and we miss her greatly.”
Silva noted that Karen’s death was sad, painful, and permanent.
“It’s a big loss,” Silva wrote. “She was only 21 years old. She had her whole life in front of her, and to know that my niece is without her mom causes me profound sadness.”
Vaca did not look at Karen’s family during the hearing or when he made a brief statement of his own.
Although court documents from his probation interview showed Garcia-Vaca has shown “not an iota of remorse” for killing the mother of his child, he did apologize to the judge for the pain he caused the Romero family.
“I also apologize for talking to the media and handing out flyers when I knew she was already dead,” he said.
Before Karen’s body was discovered six days after her death, Garcia-Vaca gave a tearful interview, later dubbed “crocodile tears” by television personality John Walsh, in a 2019 episode of “In Pursuit,” which led to his capture.
As Colusa police were closing in, Garcia-Vaca left the country before a warrant for his arrest was served. According to court documents, Garcia-Vaca’s mother and other family members were allegedly aware that Karen was dead before he fled.
Following a tip that led to the release of a $10,000 reward offered, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Garcia-Vaca in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on Aug. 1, 2018, where he had been living for 18 months under the alias “Julian Munoz Gallo,”
He was extradited back to Colusa County, where he has been incarcerated since Aug. 4.
As part of his plea deal, Garcia-Vaca forfeited the 525 actual days served (604 earned) that would normally have been a credit of time off his sentence.
Despite the evidence in the case, District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp made the 25-year offer with forfeiture of time served because he said he would have difficulty proving that the “jilted” boyfriend, who had pleaded in text messages with Karen not to end their relationship, acted with malicious intent when he struck and killed her during a confrontation.
Beauchamp said Garcia should serve the full 25 years on top of the 18 months he has already served.
“He is richly deserving of the sentence,” Beauchamp said.
Garcia-Vaca will be transported to North Kern State Prison, in Delano, when state prison admissions resume.
Since her death, 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. ♣