John: Yes, he had made a quick call, but it was not it was more, he keyed his transmitter, (by) which they knew it was an emergency.
Signal: It has been two years since your son was killed. The suspect, Armando "Chato" Garcia, fled to Mexico, where he is still free.
Barbara: We have waited two years and tried to get some justice. What we have found is that law enforcement is very frustrated. They’re doing everything they can do, but it appears that law enforcement is wearing the handcuffs in this case, and in many cases like this.
They’re not able to get these killers who have fled to Mexico. They’re not able to get the Mexican government to extradite these people to come back here for American justice. … They call it Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution they will not extradite for murder or rape. Unless it’s a predetermined sentence, they will not extradite these criminals.
Signal: Armando Garcia is a Mexican citizen
Barbara: (Yes.) And because we cannot give a predetermined sentence because in America you have to stand trial; you are presumed innocent until proven guilty we cannot just say, "This is what the penalty would be for him." So we’re in a real Catch-22 here. We simply are not able to win.
If we were to put out a warrant for Armando’s arrest (in) Mexico, he would appear before a member of their government they don’t have the trial system we have and quite possibly could be released for lack of evidence. If that were the case and he were to come back to America, we would be bound by the double-jeopardy law.
Signal: Tell us about the event next Saturday, May 8, at College of the Canyons.
Barbara: On May 8 we want to have the biggest event in California. The event is so that the American people can have a voice in the injustice that’s going on in our legal system.
We have total support from law enforcement. We have been backed up by Sheriff Lee Baca, by LAPD Chief William Bratton and by our district attorney, Steve Cooley, (and) our mayor, Bob Kellar. The total Santa Clarita Valley has been behind us for this entire time, and of course we’re grateful for that. But at this event we will have victims of crime telling their stories. Many of them have stories that go back years and the problems have not been solved.
Signal: These are other victims of crimes where the perpetrators have fled to Mexico?
Barbara: Yes. There are many, many of them. In the L.A. area we’re figuring there are between 300 and 400. In all of California there are probably 1,000, and as our district attorney says, if we think there are 1,000, there are probably 3,000 or 4,000.
Signal: You’re calling the event "Dave’s March for Justice." Will you be marching through campus?
Barbara: Well, it turns out, it’s Mothers Day weekend, and I think everything takes on a life of its own and it ended up on this day. I am asking the mothers to come out and walk with me. We will be walking from the south parking lot into the stadium. We will have press there. This is going to be not only the voice of the people; it will be a media event.
The goal of the event is to send a message to the White House that … this is probably the most distressing problem in California today. What it is, is, we are fighting for the justice and the safety of our sons and our daughters.
Signal: What can Joe Citizen do to help your cause?
John: We live in a wonderful time of communication. What we want to do at this rally is obviously raise the awareness. We want to give everyone something to do, and that’s going to be things like, send e-mails to the president, to the secretary of state, to government officials, and also to sign petitions. The petitions will be to demand that the federal government renegotiate its treaties with Mexico, and demand that criminals that perpetrate crimes here are punished here.
Signal: Has the White House indicated the issue is on its radar?
John: We only got an empty promise. We were back there in May (2003) for the Police Officers Memorial where they honored Dave … and, unbelievably, 150 other police officers killed in the line of duty during 2002.
I mean, we sometimes wonder about people being killed in war and things like that. But when you think that we have 150 police officers almost every year killed in the line of duty but anyway we had the opportunity to meet the president. He was very congenial, very nice, and looked us right in the eye and said, "We’ve got to get this guy."
That was almost a year ago, and to the best of our knowledge, unless he’s doing it in mystery, he hasn’t followed up on that promise.
Signal: You’ve been working with politicians like U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein . What are they doing?
Barbara: They’re doing everything they can do, and what it boils down to (is), no one person in this country can solve this problem. This problem … can only be solved by the voice of the people. That’s why we’re giving them a chance (on May 8). Their voice will be their presence at our rally. Of course you know numbers will talk. At the rally we will have petitions.
John: Both Buck and Dianne Feinstein, in their respective areas of federal government, both put resolutions, one before the House, one before the Senate. Basically, that process is working its way through committees and everything else. It basically is going to say, from the Senate and from the House, demanding that the president renegotiate these treaties.
Signal: How does the 1974 extradition treaty with Mexico need to change?
John: The treaty itself doesn’t preclude the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison. But the supreme court in Mexico determined that both were cruel and unusual punishments.
At first it was, just the death penalty was that. And then Sol (Zavala), who has become a friend of ours, whose niece and daughters were gunned down in front of their home two honor students on their way home from school, gunned down by a gang member who then fled across the border they changed the sentence to life in prison to get them back. So they guaranteed it would be life in prison.
Then, when they were about to extradite him, the supreme court in Mexico said no, if it’s indeterminate sentence if it was life in prison, if there’s no chance of parole then that’s cruel and unusual punishment. So they didn’t extradite him.
Signal: If the treaty doesn’t preclude extradition for a capital offense, isn’t the goal really to get the Mexican supreme court to change its mind?
John: Well, that’s also true, but in the treaty we can demand that they have to allow extradition on the death penalty and life in prison.
At the time, they didn’t even think about it, when they actually wrote the treaty. But now, the supreme court of Mexico has changed things. Now we need to, in our treaty, say, "OK, you have to extradite, even when it’s life in prison and-or the death penalty."
Signal: Armando Garcia is a Mexican citizen whose government is protecting him from facing justice in another country the United States where he is the suspect in a murder for which he hasn’t been proven guilty. What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if your son or daughter were accused, but not proven guilty, of a crime in another country? Shouldn’t the United States be able to keep him or her from being shipped off to a nation that executes criminals?
John: I know Barbara thinks the same way I do. If I, or a child of ours, or whatever, commits a crime somewhere, they should be punished by the laws of that country, because they committed a crime in another sovereign country.
I wouldn’t like to think of our daughter or my son in a jail somewhere, but if they’re foolish enough to commit a crime in that country, then they are subject to the laws of that country.
Signal: Regarding the indeterminate term first degree murder is 25 years to life; second degree is 15 to life. The highest determinate term is for manslaughter, with a maximum sentence in California of 10 years. Would you be satisfied with a 10-year sentence for Armando Garcia?
John: No. And also, as Steve (Cooley) has explained it to us many times, if that was the case, and they dropped it down to manslaughter I mean, if I was a criminal serving a life sentence, or someone on death row, I would be yelling my head off, saying, "Hey, here’s a guy that kills a police officer in cold blood, executes him, and he gets 10 years? He gets manslaughter when I’m waiting to have my life taken away?" I think the appeals courts would be lined up like a circus.
Barbara: So what do we have to do? Retry all these people that are in prison now? It would throw our whole justice system off. But also this loophole in this treaty … when we got to Washington and spoke to people like Dianne Feinstein, none of them knew that this was a problem California had. This was news to them. Which was a little shocking to us, because we figured, you know, they’re supposed to know what’s happening in our country.
Signal: What was news to them?
Barbara: That this treaty existed, and that people were fleeing California and literally getting away with murder. Not only that, but the incentive is there to murder.
Signal: How so?
Barbara: Because if you rob a convenience store and you get caught, they will extradite for that in Mexico. But if you kill the owner, they won’t extradite for that. So the message has been clear to murder.
This is leaving all of our citizens and our children very vulnerable, unprotected. And the first, the most important duty of the federal government is to honor the sovereignty of the United states and protect us from terrorism.
John: It was interesting when … the light came on with Dianne Feinstein. And she has been such a big help. But, you know, they’re busy, they’re focused on so many things.
We were explaining, and her staff basically, as (Deputy District Attorney Janice) Maurizi and Steve Cooley were trying to get information to them about this problem her staff was kind of shunting it off. So I explained, I said, you know, the way things are, there is an incentive for them to kill a police officer or to kill a person during a crime.
I explained why, and (Feinstein) said to Jan Maurizi, "Why hasn’t Steve Cooley sent me a letter or called us on this?" And (Maurizi) said, "Well, here’s our phone log and all the calls that we made." And (Feinstein) said, "Well, then why didn’t you write a letter if you couldn’t get through on the phone?" And (Maurizi) said, "Well, here’s a copy of all the letters we sent."
At that point, Dianne Feinstein looked at her staff and said, "We’re going to talk later, but I’m in this 100 percent."
And she has been great. She has been at news conferences that we’ve held, and she’s been obviously one of the authors of the resolution in the Senate.
Signal: How realistic is it to believe that criminals who come here from Mexico understand they’ve got an incentive to commit murder? Is there evidence to suggest they know about the Mexican supreme court’s 2001 decision?
Barbara: Well, apparently they do. What we’re talking here about is good vs. evil. And there are a lot of good people here from Mexico. They’ve come here to be safe and to have freedom.
John: Probably not all of them understand that they can get away with (it); (that) if they kill someone they won’t get extradited. But certainly the more sophisticated criminals like Armando, who had been dancing back and forth across the border, was wanted for attempted murder, drugs, gun possession
But there’s a lot of cold-blooded killers involved in drug trafficking. And these people to them, killing is just a way of life. These are the people that are coming that we are talking about that are coming into America and stealing the freedom from the citizens of the United States, and specifically, as we are talking about here, the citizens of California. Our sons and daughters are at risk.
Signal: He had been deported at least twice
John: Yeah. And once let out of prison to go back, sent back to Mexico. So certainly people like that do. And it was obvious in this case that he understood that. And there (have) been other cases like that where police officers (or other) people had been just gunned down in cold blood.
Signal: Garcia fled to Mexico right after the murder. Do you have information to suggest he’s been back?
Barbara: I’ll answer that one. We know he has family in Irwindale
Signal: Where the killing took place
Barbara: Yes. That morning, he was with I believe it was his sister, and she has told our investigators that when he left the house, he said, "I’m going to go kill a cop today." So that was his mission. For whatever reason. I don’t know whether drug dealers work their way up in their system through kills, whatever. You know? There is a culture that we don’t understand. And it’s our feeling that America needs to protect its own, it needs to be protecting its citizens. And it’s not just Mexico. There (are) bad people in every country. But Mexico is easy access to America.
Signal: David’s widow, Teri March, recently asked Cooley to consider issuing and arrest warrant so at least Garcia will be behind bars in Mexico. Are you taking a similar tack?
John: No. no. Because it’s a slippery slope. Once you issue an arrest warrant, it’s out of your hands. Now, if he is arrested in Mexico and put into jail, you do not know what’s going to happen.
We have anecdotal evidence from Jan Maurici showing that people with similar crimes have gotten no punishment, jail on the weekends, jail for a year and then paroled it depends on how much clout they have. Because it’s the old Napoleonic law. There is a judge, there (are) no attorneys, there (are) no witnesses, there is not even testimony of the criminal. The judge looks at the materials, looks them over, and comes down with a decision.
Barbara: A lot of times it’s how much money you have backing you, and your family, or with the people you know down in that system.
John: There’s one (more) thing I’d like to mention. … When Dave was killed, Barbara and I went to the site where he had been gunned down. Strangely enough, it was the day afterward, and we sat right where he died, and we had a feeling of peace about it. We knew that he was there. We knew he was with God.
We all of a sudden realized that this was a battle of good against evil, and that if David was there, it was with us. And (if) we said, "Dave, we got Armando. He’s going to get a lethal injection. He’s done." Dave would say to us, "That was a bad trade."
On the other hand, if, in Dave’s name, we can change laws, if we can get some of these hundreds or thousands of criminals back from Mexico to face justice, if some of these families that are torn apart and never have had any resolution because the killers are there in Mexico if that can be changed, then Dave would stand there next to us and say, "Dad, that was a good trade. Mom, that was a good trade."
We obviously wouldn’t agree with that, but we know that in Dave’s heart, he would feel that his life had not been lost in vain.
Barbara: And the thing that that would accomplish, as well, is the message that it’s not OK to come to America and kill and flee (over) the border.
Signal: What would be the appropriate justice for Armando Garcia?
Barbara: First of all, to change the laws so that Americans can once again feel that their sons and daughters are safe if they go out in the evening they’re going to come home and that the United States becomes a sovereign nation as it at one time was, and that Armando is put into prison and that we throw away the key so he can no longer function in a life of crime.
"Dave’s March for Justice" starts Saturday at 9 a.m. at College of the Canyons with a march through campus from the south parking lot to the football stadium. The public is encouraged to attend. Motorists should follow signs to designated parking areas.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.