The murder case against a man accused of killing four people in Palm Springs two years ago is set to begin Monday, and prosecutors are calling for a death sentence.
Jose Vladimir Larin Garcia, 22, of Cathedral City, is charged with four counts of murder in February 3, 2019, the murder of a man found dead in the street behind an apartment complex and three other people found in a vehicle crashed into a brick wall blocks.
The victims were Carlos Campos Rivera, 25; Jacob Montgomery, 19; Juan Duarte Raya, 18 years old; and Yuliana Garcia, 17.
In pre-trial hearings and in case files, the prosecution called the killings the fatal end of an attempted robbery gone bad. But many questions remain about how that night became the city’s deadliest in more than a decade.
For example, testimony given at Larin Garcia’s preliminary hearing referred to two people who were seen alive and fleeing the scene of the crash on East Sunny Dunes Road.
Larin Garcia was found nearby and taken to hospital. But a second person – if actually present – has not been publicly identified by authorities, and his involvement in the killings, if any, is unknown.
Another unanswered question concerns the murder weapon, which is said to be a Glock handgun. He has not been found, despite what police said was an extensive search in the area. However, prosecutors argued at a preliminary hearing that a Glock gun case police found in Larin Garcia’s bedroom contained a series of tests that appear to match cartridge cases found at crime scenes.
Prosecutors have yet to explain in detail why they believe Larin Garcia, Montgomery, Raya and Garcia have visited the Campos Rivera apartment complex presumably armed in the first place.
A call about a traffic accident turns into a murder case
Most of what is known about how four were found dead by police just before midnight on February 3, 2019, was revealed in pre-trial documents and testimony provided in the criminal case against Larin Garcia.
Palm Springs Police responded to reports of a traffic accident on the 3700 block of East Sunny Dunes Road at 11:42 p.m., according to the prosecution’s brief filed with the court. There, they found a green Toyota Corolla that crashed into a brick wall in front of a residence. The engine was still running and three people, apparently injured and unconscious, were found inside. Police discovered the vehicle contained the bodies of Montgomery, Raya and Garcia. All had been fatally shot.
The call came from a nearby resident who was awakened by the noise of the accident, according to the file and testimony. The resident saw two men who appeared to be intoxicated a short distance down the road. But the two fled while the resident went to inspect the vehicle more closely, according to the prosecution file.
At around the same time, police also received calls about gunshots and a person found lying on the street in Cannon Drive with an apparent gunshot wound. Two people had found Campos Rivera’s body on their way to the apartment complex after driving home from work.
A Palm Springs police officer was roaming the nearby streets when he found Larin Garcia hiding under a truck. Larin Garcia initially resisted the idea of speaking with the officer, according to the record and testimony. He had no shoes on, appeared to have blood on his clothes and his speech was muddled, according to the trial record. The officer found shoes, a jacket, a cell phone and car keys under the truck.
Asked by the police, Larin Garcia replied: “How can I be well? I just witnessed a murder”, according to the court file. He stopped answering questions shortly after and was taken to hospital.
Within hours, Larin Garcia was released from the hospital and fled.
Larin Garcia gets help with a bus ticket
Carlos Campos Rivera lived with his girlfriend in the apartment complex at 557 South El Cielo. The woman, who is not identified in court records, told police she fell asleep on the evening of February 3 and woke up around midnight to find Campos Rivera had not returned home she.
The next morning, he was told that Campos Rivera had not gone to work. She found messages on a computer from Jacob Montgomery, exchanged around 11:35 p.m. the night before, saying he was outside the apartment in Raya’s car.
An unidentified witness told the police he had met with Montgomery at around 11:20 p.m. that night, according to the prosecution’s brief. In addition to Montgomery, the witness saw Raya, Garcia and a fourth man, whom they call “Vladis”. Prosecutors believe the nickname is an abbreviated version of Larin Garcia’s middle name, Vladimir.
Authorities have provided few details on what happened between the time the witness met Montgomery and saw the others, and the shooting that resulted in Campos Rivera’s death.
After Larin Garcia left the hospital, he reportedly walked to the home of Joseph Beaver, with whom he had stayed, according to testimonies and documents. Beaver told police Larin Garcia said he was in a car accident and needed help. Beaver went to Larin Garcia’s home and collected his wallet, clothes, bandages and bought him a Greyhound ticket under a false name.
Beaver told the Desert Sun that he helps young people in the region who are going through difficult times, and Larin Garcia was among them. He added that he did not know Larin Garcia was a suspect in the homicide case when he helped him.
Police found Larin Garcia at a bus station in Indio. He had shaved his head and had a bus ticket to Florida.
A search of Larin Garcia’s room in the apartment he shared with his family revealed an empty Glock gun case, ammunition, a 33-round magazine, manufacturer’s test cases and a shirt that appeared to have blood on it, according to the brief trial. Investigators said the cases found in the Corolla, as well as in Larin Garcia’s car and bedroom, matched.
Larin Garcia has been in the Riverside County Jail since February 5, 2019 and was held without bail. Riverside County District Attorney’s Office announced in February 2020 that he would ask for the death penalty.
Christopher Damien covers public safety and the criminal justice system. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him at @chris_a_damien.