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Lawyers Spar Over Garcia's Sanity in Murder Trial

Courts: Jury must judge if he was rational when he fatally shot the woman he loved and her father.

September 17, 1997|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Miguel Hugo Garcia gave a rose and two doves to the object of his affection, then shot her elderly father to death when the man came between them and killed the woman as she tried to flee, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Calvert said at the start of Garcia's murder trial that Garcia--who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity--was in fact sane when he fatally shot Helen Giardini and Albert "Jim" Alexander on May 22.

Garcia, 43, of La Crescenta, had scrawled messages about his infatuation onto a Styrofoam cooler lid after bringing a dinner and other gifts to Giardini and Alexander at Alexander's Upper Ojai home that night. Garcia wrote one message urging himself to have sex with her, Calvert said.

Garcia also wrote, " 'He knew we were meant for each other. We will have to wait till morning. We will have a male son, blond hair, blue eyes,' " Calvert said. He told jurors, "That is the motivation . . . for killing a man who came at him with a gun and then turning and killing a woman who tried to leave."

But defense attorney James Farley told jurors that Garcia was insane when he killed the woman, 42, and her ailing father, 83. Farley asked jurors to find Garcia not guilty by reason of insanity--a verdict that likely would send the defendant to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison.

"Mr. Garcia at the time felt that he was being God-directed, that he was killing the devil," Farley said.

Farley also promised to offer jurors evidence that Garcia's mental health began deteriorating last year--to the point where the normally respectful Garcia threatened to kill them.

And Farley said jurors would hear tapes of police interviews and a 911 call during which Garcia raved about being a Muslim warrior on a mission from God to protect a 3-year-old savior--Giardini's son.

Then Farley began presenting evidence. Traditionally, prosecutors present the first evidence in a criminal case. But the defense began in this case because Garcia bears the burden of proving the unusual plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Under Farley's questioning, California Highway Patrol Officer Troy Marks testified that he pulled over Garcia's black Porsche on the Grapevine section of Interstate 5 on May 12 after receiving radio reports that the car was being driven recklessly.

Garcia first claimed he was a Los Angeles Police Department officer, but failed to produce any police ID, Marks said. Then he got out of the car and began pacing on the freeway shoulder until Marks ordered him to stay still, he testified.

Garcia walked to the Porsche and pulled out a wooden box holding a bottle of cognac, then made the officer read the lid, which said, "40 years old."

Garcia said, "This is 40 years old, this is yours, this is yours, you take it," Marks said of the apparent bribe attempt. Marks said he refused, and when he wasn't looking, Garcia apparently jammed the box between the CHP cruiser's grille and external loudspeaker.

Garcia also offered to let the officer drive his car, Marks said.

But he did not appear to fit the legal definition of mentally unstable--being a danger to himself or others--so Marks ticketed him for speeding and let him go, he testified.

Next, a cousin testified that Garcia grew depressed and uncharacteristically hostile in the months leading up to the double homicide. The Sunday before the shootings, Garcia "told me he wasn't well and he needed help, and he wanted me to help him seek that help," Abilio Lopez testified.

"He threatened to kill me several times. . . . He was very unstable," Lopez recalled. "He went off the wall and said these things about Mohammed Rashid and when I repeated the name, he slapped me across the face. . . . That was not Mike. That was not the man who knew and cared about me."

After an arrest in Malibu, Garcia's family bailed him out of Los Angeles County Jail, where he bragged that he had "made a lot of friends and . . . beat the heck out of the cops," Lopez testified. "To him, it was a real big joke and he was invincible."

Then jurors heard the chilling 911 tape made moments after the slayings.

As a dispatcher on the tape tried to calm Garcia and learn who was shot, Giardini's 3-year-old son, Jimmy Alexander, can be heard shrieking in the background.

"Should I take him away from the dead bodies?" Garcia asked. "His mother's dead, he's laying on top of her."

Garcia put the boy on the phone. As the dispatcher tried to calm him, he sobbed, "Mike killed mommy and grandpa. Can you help?"

Jurors listened intently, several with their hand clamped over their forehead or mouth.

Garcia confessed later on the tape that he has shot Giardini and Jim Alexander to death, then says of young Jimmy: "He's very smart. He's going to lead us into the 21st century. He is a Muslim. . . . I am friend, not foe. I am friend, not foe. God told me to tell you."

Testimony will continue today at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 33.

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