Emotions ran high during the two-day preliminary hearing for Samantha Garcia, 21, and her 29-year-old brother Victor Garcia, who are accused of murdering Phillip Sanchez, 22, of Tracy on Sept. 19.
Sanchez was found on the 200 block of Whittier Ave. around midnight with three fatal stab wounds after he was seen fighting with Victor Garcia. He was pronounced dead an hour later at a local hospital.
Victor Garcia is charged with premeditated murder, street terrorism, personal use of a non-firearm weapon, and special allegations of a prior conviction. Samantha Garcia is charged with premeditated murder and accessory after the fact.
On Friday, Samantha Garcia appeared emotionally shaken, while Victor Garcia remained motionless while Judge Elizabeth Humphreys announced her ruling to move the case toward trial and kept the pair in San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp. There bail remains at $2 million.
During the previous day of witness testimony on Thursday, Jan. 17, several friends and members of the victim’s family appeared emotional in the courtroom. Several women wiping tears from their eyes as they listened to witnesses talk about the night of the alleged murder.
Sanchez’s sister, Narissa, burst into tears on the witness stand as she recalled watching Victor Garcia and her brother fighting. She testified to seeing them fist fighting in front of their Tracy house and that Victor Garcia then chased her brother down the street when he tried to get away.
She said her brother collapsed a few houses away on the front lawn after Victor Garcia was seen walking back to his sister’s car and leaving with Samantha Garcia and another man, later identified as Angel Perez.
Earlier in the hearing, Perez took the stand and testified that he heard Victor Garcia ask his sister prior to leaving their Modesto home the night of the killing, “Who is this guy? I want to know who he is,” referring to the victim. He believed they were going to Tracy that night to talk to Sanchez about the calls.
Perez said he saw Victor Garcia throw the first punch while Garcia and Sanchez were arguing in front of the garage at Sanchez’s house. He also testified to seeing Victor Garcia chase Sanchez down the street.
A few minutes later, Perez said he watched Victor Garcia and Sanchez walk behind a pickup and only Victor Garcia emerged a moment later.
“Victor came back without Phillip and he (Victor Garcia) said ‘we got to go’,” Perez said. “We all got in the car and left.”
During their ride back to Modesto, Perez said the only conversation in the car came when Victor Garcia told his sister, “We’ve got to tell mom and dad.”
When asked by Forkner what Perez thought had occurred, he said he thought Garcia had knocked Sanchez out.
Perez and Narissa Sanchez testified that they never saw a knife on the night of the killing, and no weapon has been recovered by police.
Ed Campbell, a detective for the Tracy Police Department, testified that the victim had been texting and calling Samantha Garcia for a few hours in an effort to reach her best friend, Stephanie Rodriguez, who also has a 5-year-old daughter with the victim.
Rodriguez said that Samantha Garcia was upset with Sanchez and that she was with Samantha Garcia when she received the calls.
Samantha Garcia’s attorney, Preciliano Martinez, asked her about how many times Sanchez called and Rodriguez said, “a lot of times, more than 20” it started around 10 p.m.
On Friday morning, Judge Elizabeth Humphreys asked Deputy District Attorney Mark Ott to address the aiding and abetting charges against Samantha Garcia.
Ott said the charge was appropriate because she drove her brother to Sanchez’s house the night of the alleged murder.
“They were not going over to have a discussion with this guy,” Ott said. “She brought him (Victor). You can’t bring a pit bull to a situation.”
Martinez argue that the siblings did want to talk to Sanchez to get him to stop texting and calling Samantha Garcia. He noted that the victim had been contacting Samantha Garcia’s phone for several hours on the night of the killing.
“He was sending her some very degrading text messages,” Martinez said. “Someone had to talk to him to get him to stop. There is no evidence Mrs. Garcia had knowledge that they were going to get into a fight and Phillip was going to get stabbed.”
Robert Forkner, who is representing Victor Garcia, argued during his closing arguments that the incident was a “heat of passion” and not premeditated murder.
“There is zero evidence of intent to kill,” Forkner said. “It’s a voluntary manslaughter type of thing.”
Ott said Victor Garcia was the aggressor because he threw the first punch against Sanchez and then allegedly stabbed him.
“Obviously Victor, he’s the killer,” Ott said. “They were not going there to negotiate, they were going there to vindicate.”
Humphreys ordered the Garcias to appear for arraignment at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 30 in Department 35 of the Stockton courthouse.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.