A La Mesa man accused of shooting another man in the head Oct. 4 in a residential neighborhood must stand trial on murder charges, a judge ruled Wednesday after a preliminary hearing at East County Superior Court.
Antonio Garcia, 32, was arrested Oct. 8 at the home of a relative in National City. He is suspected of having shot and killed Josue (“Happy”) Rodriguez outside Garcia’s home in the 5800 block of Amarillo Avenue.
Rodriguez was found lying in the street on Oct. 4 with a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
He was pronounced dead two days later after being taken off life support.
Homicides are a rare occurance in La Mesa. Before last year, there were only 3 documented homicides since 2007, and 10 in the last 10 years. The homicide rate doubled in 2012 from the year before, with two homicides occuring just two weeks apart – including the one for which Garcia is accused.
Following two days and 10 hours of testimony from a multitude of witnesses, Judge Lantz Lewis deemed sufficient evidence existed for Garcia to stand trial.
Judge Lewis kept bail at $3 million. Garcia faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted of murder and the use of a firearm.
Speaking to Garcia, who was dressed in a jail issued blue jumpsuit, wearing glasses with a thick, full beard, Lewis said, “I find the allegation in count one is true, and further that the evidence is sufficient to show that you committed the felony as charged, a violation of Penal Code section 187(a), and that you are the one who in the commission of that felony did personally discharge the firearm, which approximately caused the death of the victim, Mr. Rodriguez. Therefore you are to answer for the charge of murder, as it is alleged.”
The only eyewitness to testify on Tuesday was Thyra Reeves, who does not know either the victim or Garcia, but is alleged to have witnessed the shooting. Reeves, a Tennessee resident who was in San Diego visiting during the time of the shooting, ended up being unknowingly involved.
Reeves told Deputy District Attorney Shanish Aloor that she was staying at a hotel in Mission Valley when she met and became friendly with Cinely Ruvalcaba, a woman who formerly lived at Garcia’s residence.
Ruvalcaba (who Reeves referred to as “Sammie”) and Reeves went to Garcia’s house on two separate occasions on the day of the shooting “to pick up some things.”
It was later admitted that the women were there to find meth and marijuana.
The first time they arrived, Garcia was not home, but Ruvalcaba was denied entry to the house by an unknown resident. Upon their second trip to the house, they were accompanied by Rodriguez, the victim.
Following an argument at the front door of the house between Ruvalcaba, Rodriguez and Garcia, Reeves testified that she saw the defendant—whom she identified in court—point a gun at and shoot toward the victim.
Saying that she stayed in the back seat of the car during the argument, she testified at hearing two sets of two or three gunshots, and said that she remembers seeing Rodriguez collapse in the street in front of Garcia’s house.
“Sammie got into the car, put the car into drive and acted as if she was going to run over [the defendant],” she said. “I just kept thinking, ‘Oh my God. What have I got myself into?’”
At that point, Reeves said, she remembers Sammie backing out of the driveway toward where the victim was lying in the street, and trying to physically move him into the car.
“I got out of the car and ran to a neighbor’s house,” she said. “I hopped the fence and used my phone.”
On Wednesday, the testimony of Adriana Martinez, who like Cinely Ruvalcaba, used to live with Garcia in the residence, gave the court the best insight into a possible motive in the case.
Martinez said that there were quite a few people who had lived in Garcia’s house, and people would often come and go.
She said that at one point, Happy was also living in the house, for a period of about three months. Also living in the house for an unknown amount of time were Francisco Rodriguez, her boyfriend, known as “Chino,” and a man named Brandon Stevens, who is known as “Grifo.”
Ruvalcaba and Stevens both have felony warrants, the court was told.
Martinez, who has previously spoken with lead detective Bucky Wright twice about the shooting, said in one of her previous statements that Garcia was growing increasingly frustrated at items going missing from the house.
Aloor read one of the previous statements back to Martinez, which said that “everyone in the house started blaming Josue Rodriguez (the victim) and Francisco Rodriguez for things going missing,” everything from clothes to a computer monitor.
When Aloor asked if the defendant “essentially kicked them out of the house,” Martinez denied that, but said that by the time of the incident on Oct. 4, Happy, his girlfriend, and Chino had all moved out of the house.
Martinez also testified on Wednesday that on the day of the incident, she was sleeping in Garcia’s house, and was woken up by gunshots. She also said she “couldn’t remember” seeing Garcia in the house after the shooting.
However, in her previous statement to Detective Wright, Martinez said that she remembers being woken up by a loud noise and yelling at the front door, and that she recognized one of the voices as the victim’s.
She also said in the previous statement that she did, in fact, see the defendant immediately following the shooting, and that Garcia said to her, “Get into the truck. Let’s get out of here.”
Judge Lewis became frustrated with Martinez’s apparently evasive answers when being questioned about some of the discrepancies between her testimony and her previous statement given to detectives.
When Martinez responded, “I don’t remember” in the same tone of voice and inflection to seven successive ‘yes or no’ questions from Aloor, Lewis halted the proceedings.
“Ms. Martinez, might I ask what happened to your memory?” he said sternly. “This is not a game, ma’am. This is serious. It’s obvious to me that you are purposely not remembering. Use your memory. You are under oath.”
When Martinez continued to evade questions from Aloor, in an apparent attempt to not implicate certain other people, Lewis called her “not a good citizen.” And when both Aloor and defense attorney Paul Rodriguez were finished questioning Martinez, Lewis simply waved his hand at her to leave the courtroom, not verbally acknowledging that she was free to go.
Martinez also said that after she and Ruvalcaba tried unsuccessfully to move the victim’s body into the car “to take him to the hospital,” that left the scene with Ruvalcaba in the car that Happy, Ruvalcaba and Reeves had arrived in just minutes earlier.
Two of the defendant’s neighbors also testified on Wednesday as to the aftermath of the shooting.
Russell Trapenier, who lives next door to Garciadescribed Garcia as “very neighborly,” adding that they would “often stop and chat in the driveway or over the fence.”
Both neighbors said they were home at the time of the incident about 5:30 p.m. Oct. 4. One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he was lying down to take a nap when he heard an initial burst of about three gunshots, followed by a single gunshot seconds later. After telling his family to get down and move to the back of the house, He went outside and began walking toward the scene with another neighbor.
Upon arriving to in front of Garcia’s home, the neighbor said he saw “a dude laying in the street, with a significant amount of blood.”
“There was a woman screaming ‘Oh my God, and other general hysterics,’” he said.
Trapenier said he heard what he initially thought was “ice falling on the floor in my kitchen,” but almost immediately heard a second set of gunshots.
Looking out of his kitchen window, which showed a clear view in front of Garcia’s house, he said he saw the victim laying in the street, saw a black woman (assumed to be Reeves) run away, and saw a Hispanic woman (assumed to be Ruvalcaba) trying to pull at the victim, who was unresponsive.
As a physician’s assistant, Trapenier said that he could see immediately that it was a gunshot wound, and that Rodriguez, “wasn’t going to do very well.”
Both Trapenier and the other neighbor said that after they arrived, Garcia came out to the street and stood with them, as other neighbors began forming a crowd at the scene. Both testified that they asked Garcia if he knew the victim, to which he replied no.
Both men also testified that minutes later, Garcia appeared in the crowd again, this time with his pit bull on a leash. One added that he heard Garcia tell him, “I’m going to take my dog for a walk” as police were starting to arrive.
He also said testified that Garcia told him, “the police are probably gonna pick me up.”
Both neighbors also testified that they noticed a large hole in the rear window of Garcia’s white pickup truck, which occurred when Happy allegedly threw a large brick or rock through it during the altercation. Several other testimonies confirmed this as well.
Detective Wright then testified about statements given to him by Martinez and Ruvalcaba. He said Martinez told him that the argument that she heard involved both Happy and Ruvalcaba. He also said that Martinez told him that during her time living with Garcia, she would often see the defendant with a semi-automatic handgun and a revolver.
Wright’s testimony of a statement taken from Ruvalcaba said that she saw the victim throw a rock through Garcia’s truck window following the altercation, at which point she saw Garcia “point the firearm and fire two shots at Happy.”
Wright also described the circumstances of Garcia’s arrest four days later in National City, at the home of a relative. He said that Garcia had shaved his head and cut off his goatee in an attempt to change his appearance from how eyewitnesses described him on the day of the shooting.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story had the name of one neighbor, but he has since asked not to be identified.