A 22-year-old Redwood City man serving life without parole for killing a teen at a party five years ago will be resentenced based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that such mandatory sentences for juveniles are unlawful.
The new hearing doesn’t ensure Ricardo Garcia will not again be given the life term but the sentencing judge must consider factors like his age, maturity and family life. Judge Robert Foiles had some discretion the first time but, in light of the court ruling, must articulate the grounds for his choice. He asked attorneys to submit legal briefs before a July 19 sentencing hearing.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office will consider whether to again push for life without parole.
“We will take a serious look at it,” he said.
Garcia, who was 17 at the time of the crime, was convicted of first-degree murder with a special gang allegation that made him parole ineligible for fatal shooting 19-year-old Solomone Zarate.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2012 case Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of crimes even if they are tried as adults. The court had previously made an exception for murder.
At his sentencing, Garcia’s defense attorney Chuck Smith sought leniency, asking the judge to strike the gang allegation and instead impose 60 years to life. However, Judge Robert Foiles said that “with those five shots he condemned himself” to the more serious sentence.
Defense attorney Chuck Smith never disputed Garcia shot Zarate but argued it was self-defense more fitting of voluntary manslaughter.
During the 2010 trial, the prosecution contended Garcia jumped into a fight between his friend and Zarate outside a Sept. 13, 2008 party on Columbia Avenue because he wanted to prove he was the “biggest, baddest” member of the Fair Oaks Park sect of the Norteño gang.
Garcia testified as the sole defense witness that he believed Zarate had a gun because his hand was in his waistband. Zarate called out Heller Street, his alleged gang, and Garcia reportedly countered with his affiliation before shooting twice, then following and firing three more times.
Prosecutors called to the stand other partygoers and showed jurors a photograph taken at the party which showed Garcia with an arm extended toward Zarate and a written account of the encounter confiscated from Garcia’s juvenile hall cell while awaiting trial. The defense said the statement was a way to come clean, written for Bible study.
On top of the Supreme Court’s ruling, California law governing juveniles also changed.
Last year, the governor also signed a bill authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, that allows judges to reconsider life without parole sentences for juveniles after they serve at least 15 years in prison. A judge can then reduce the sentences to 25 years to life.
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