The murder case against a man accused of killing four people in Palm Springs two years ago is scheduled to start Monday, and prosecutors are seeking a death sentence.
Jose Vladimir Larin Garcia, 22, of Cathedral City, is charged with four counts of murder in the Feb. 3, 2019, slayings of one man found dead in the street behind an apartment complex and three other people found in a vehicle crashed into a brick wall blocks away.
In pretrial hearings and filings, the prosecution has cast the killings as the deadly end to an attempted robbery gone wrong. But many questions remain about how that night became the city's most lethally violent in more than a decade.
More: Palm Springs quadruple killing: A timeline of events
For example, testimony provided during Larin Garcia's preliminary hearing made mention of two people being seen alive and fleeing the scene of the crash on East Sunny Dunes Road.
Larin Garcia was found nearby and transported to a hospital. But a second person — if actually present — has not been publicly identified by authorities, and his or her involvement in the killings, if any, is unknown.
Another unanswered question concerns the murder weapon, said to be a Glock handgun. It has not been found, despite what police said was extensive searching in the area. However, prosecutors argued in a pretrial hearing that a Glock gun case found by police in Larin Garcia's bedroom contained a test round that appears to match casings found at the crime scenes.
Prosecutors have also yet to provide a detailed account of why they think Larin Garcia, Montgomery, Raya and Garcia went to Campos Rivera's apartment complex, presumably armed, in the first place.
A call about a traffic crash becomes a murder case
Most of what is known about how four were found dead by police just before midnight on Feb. 3, 2019, has been revealed in pretrial filings and testimony provided in the criminal case against Larin Garcia.
Palm Springs police responded to reports of a traffic collision on the 3700 block of East Sunny Dunes Road at 11:42 p.m., according to the prosecution's trial brief filed with the court. There they found a green Toyota Corolla crashed into a brick wall in front of a residence. The engine was still running and three people, appearing to be injured and unresponsive, 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 sound of the crash, according to the filing and testimony. The resident saw two males 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's filing.
About the same time, police also received calls about shots fired and a person found prone in the street at Cannon Drive suffering an apparent gunshot wound. Two people had found Campos Rivera's body when pulling up to the apartment complex after driving home from work.
A Palm Springs police officer was canvassing nearby streets when he found Larin Garcia hiding under a truck. Larin Garcia was initially resistant to speak with the officer, according to the filing and testimony. He didn't have any shoes on, appeared to have blood on his clothing and his speech was slurred, according to the trial brief. The officer found shoes, a jacket, a cell phone and car keys under the truck.
When questioned by police, Larin Garcia responded: “How can I be okay? I just witnessed a murder,” according to the court filing. He stopped responding to questions soon after and was transported to a hospital.
In a matter of hours, Larin Garcia checked himself out of the hospital and was on the run.
Larin Garcia gets help with bus ticket
Carlos Campos Rivera lived with his girlfriend at the apartment complex at 557 South El Cielo. The woman, who is not identified in court filings, told police she went to sleep the evening of Feb. 3 and woke around midnight to find Campos Rivera had not returned home.
The next morning, she was told Campos Rivera had not gone to work. She found messages on a computer from Jacob Montgomery, exchanged around 11:35 p.m. the previous night, saying that he was outside of the apartment in Raya's car.
One unidentified witness told police that he met with Montgomery around 11:20 p.m. that night, according to the prosecution's trial brief. In addition to Montgomery, the witness saw Raya, Garcia and a fourth man, referred to by them as “Vladis.” Prosecutors believe that nickname to be a shortened version of Larin Garcia's middle name, Vladimir.
Authorities have provided few details about what happened between when the witness met with Montgomery and saw the others, and the shooting that resulted in Campos Rivera's death.
After Larin Garcia left the hospital, he is believed to have walked to the home of Joseph Beaver, who he had been staying with, according to testimony and filings. Beaver told police that Larin Garcia said he had been in a car accident and was in need of help. Beaver went to Larin Garcia's home and retrieved his wallet, some clothes, bandages and purchased him a Greyhound ticket under a false name.
Beaver told The Desert Sun that he helps youth in the area who are struggling with hard times, and Larin Garcia was among them. He added that he didn't 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 firearm case, ammunition, a 33-round magazine, test casings from the manufacturer, and a shirt that appeared to have blood on it, according to the trial brief. Investigators testified that casings found in the Corolla, and in both Larin Garcia's car and bedroom, matched.
Larin Garcia has been in Riverside County jail since Feb. 5, 2019, and has been held with no bail. The Riverside County District Attorney's Office announced in February 2020 that it would be seeking the death penalty.
Christopher Damien covers public safety and the criminal justice system. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him at @chris_a_damien.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs quadruple homicide case starts; Larin Garcia could face deathInternet Explorer Channel Network