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A Travesty of Justice: The John McVoy, Jr. Murder Trial – Part 2

The Facts of the Case and the Night of the Incident

On the night of January 10, 2017, John McVoy, Jr. and the rest of the Below The Fault Line band members were scheduled to get together at the Long Beach home (located at 6350 Knight Ave.) of Victor and Susan Garcia to rehearse in their garage. (This was a modest single-story, three-bedroom house in a residential neighborhood.) As he would testify convincingly on the stand at trial, John had gone there to quit the band, as well as to return a piece of musical equipment (which I forgot to mention in the last blog).

The Events Preceding the Shootings

Earlier that same afternoon at 5:11 pm, the Garcias’ close friend and band groupie Miguel Rea purchased a one-liter plastic bottle of Coke and Jack Daniels (as proven by a receipt the police found in his pocket on the night of the incident). 

Approximately 10-20 minutes later (between 5:20 pm and 5:30 pm), Miguel arrived at the Garcias’ residence. Only Victor was home at the time. After Miguel arrived, Victor took him to the hallway closet where he showed off his new shotgun (which Miguel admitted to police). Miguel would testify that he felt uncomfortable with Victor brandishing the weapon. This shotgun was recovered by police and their photograph of it was introduced into evidence at trial – evidence that would bolster John’s claims of self-defense.

It was at the point that the two men sat down at the kitchen table and began drinking in earnest, knocking back shots, and sipping from large glass tumblers of Jack-and-Coke. Since Ramon had only arrived shortly before John, Victor and Miguel had consumed approximately 90% of the bottle between themselves over the next 90 minutes.

Approximately 30-45 minutes after Miguel’s arrival, Susan returned home with her and  Victor’s toddler son Ray (age two years and nine months). She set Ray down to play nearby then briefly joined the men at the table, enjoying at most two shots of whiskey with them. 

Ramon Chavarria, band member and another close friend of the Garcias, arrived at 7:00 pm, and the four of them watched then-President Obama’s farewell address on TV. 

The Discussion about Politics and Victor’s Racist & Threatening Remarks

Miguel would later tell police that he and Ramon teased Victor for having voted for Trump. (Miguel and Ramon had not voted for either candidate, or for anyone else.)

Approximately 20 minutes later (around 7:20 pm), John arrived, though he remained standing while Victor, Miguel, and Ramon continued drinking heavily, and Susan stood elsewhere in the kitchen holding Ray. John did not drink with them. The political discussion continued, during which Miguel rose from his seat. To John, it was obvious that they were all quite drunk. 

Trial Tip:

At trial, the prosecution witnesses would all try to downplay how drunk Victor and Rea were that night. I thought that was a serious blunder on the ADA’s part because she knew I had overwhelming evidence as to the following: 

  • documentary evidence in the form of the liquor store receipt proving that Miguel had purchased the 750-millimeter bottle of 80-proof (40% pure alcohol) of bourbon only 90 minutes or so before John arrived at the house (the liquor store was just down the street therefrom);
  • evidence in the form of witness statements to police proving that Ramon had only arrived just before John, and that Susan herself only had a few shots, thereby confirming that Victor and Miguel had consumed almost the entire bottle by themselves; and
  • photographic evidence showing that the bottle was almost empty when police arrived, the empty shot glasses, as well as showing the near-empty tumblers of Jack-and-Coke. 

The fact that Victor and Miguel were clearly highly intoxicated did not require the testimony of a defense expert – every juror could tell from their own experience that such would have been the case based on how much booze had been consumed in such a relatively brief period of time. 

In any event, the ADA should have gotten in front of this evidence and had her witnesses confirm how much JD had been drunk, instead of denying they were drunk because that simply convinced the jurors that the witnesses were obviously lying. And once that “lying door” opens for testifying witnesses, it’s hard to close it again. In other words, the jury was thereafter conditioned to believe that these witnesses were not only perjuring themselves on the stand in that instance, but would likely be doing so for the rest of the trial.

Victor then told John how much he “hated White people”, and that “White people like John should be killed.” Victor and Ramon also joined in the racist remarks against John, saying things such as “White people like you deserve to die.” (Again, later at trial, the prosecution’s witnesses would claim Victor had merely been joking, and that he had a “unique sense of humor”.) This would later prove to be critical in establishing John’s mindset for the purpose of my arguing self-defense. (Notably, no one had ever alleged that John was in any way racist.) John reported these racist slurs to the police who interviewed him that night. For the record, Victor, Miguel, and Ramon were described in police reports as “Hispanic” while Susan was described as “other Asian” (whatever that means). 

Trial Tip:

It should come as no surprise that race always plays a significant role in any criminal trial – it’s simply how human nature works, whether consciously or unconsciously. This is such a sensitive topic that I’m really not at liberty to discuss this in much detail here. But it’s telling that during the initial “straw” vote, the four Latino jurors – who were all about the same age as Victor, Miguel, and Ramon – initially leaned towards finding John guilty of at least one of the charges. 

In fact, race came into play during jury selection when the Asian female Deputy District Attorney accused me of using one of my peremptory challenges to kick a female juror who, like Susan, was also Asian, solely because of her race, which of course is a big no-no. However, in one of the few minor victories allowed me, I was able to convince the judge that I sought to kick that juror only because she lived in an area that was extremely conservative and overwhelmingly pro law enforcement (which was the truth).

Victor then asked John whom he had voted for, and when he responded, “Hillary Clinton,” Victor yelled at him to “Get the fuck out of my house!” Ramon admitted to police that John did not respond and otherwise remained silent. (In my opinion, and no doubt in all 12 jurors’ as well, Victor was a racist bully whose animosity and aggression towards the obviously weaker John was greatly fueled by his highly inebriated state.)

During this tirade, John paced nervously back and forth, watching and listening to Victor become increasingly agitated. All of John’s fears about Victor were finally coming to fruition.

Victor Attacks John, Who Shoots Him in Self-Defense

Again, as John testified, he had brought along the ancient post-Civil War revolver because he was afraid of Victor. Specifically, Victor had recently physically threatened him, including by brandishing a 12-gauge Mossberg tactical assault shotgun after John first mentioned that he wanted to leave the band. 

To reiterate, John was particularly frightened of Victor – a significantly larger, stronger, and tougher man – because John was an extremely frail man who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease – degenerative medical conditions which would prevent him from being able to physically defend himself against Victor.

As prosecution witness Miguel testified, earlier that same evening, January 10, 2017, Victor had bragged about the shotgun and proudly displayed it to Miguel, which made him uncomfortable. 

As the evidence at trial (including photographs) established, Victor and Miguel had been drinking heavily, having quickly polished off most of a 750 ml bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and were, therefore, significantly intoxicated. Far worse, Victor was openly hostile to John. At one point, Victor made a violent threat against him, yelling angrily that “White people [like John] should be killed.” As John testified (and which all 12 jurors believed), he was genuinely afraid for his safety at the time.

This threat had been preceded moments earlier by John admitting that he had voted for Hillary Clinton as President, which angered the Donald Trump-supporting Victor. Even though John did not provoke Victor in any way, as the evidence at trial proved to the members of the jury, Victor suddenly attacked John with a metal can opener. (A photograph of this can opener would be introduced as evidence at trial.) 

Note: From the very first time I met with John, he told me about how Victor, after screaming at him about Hillary Clinton, etc., had grabbed a metal object off the kitchen counter. Because everything happened so quickly, and because he was focused on Victor’s enraged face, John didn’t actually see the object, but he knew it was metal because he heard it scrape on the counter. John also saw a flash of something metallic in Victor’s hand as he lunged at John.

I never once doubted John’s claim about the metal can opener, but no such object had been booked into evidence. And certainly none of the prosecution witnesses told police or testified about Victor attacking John with such a dangerous item – that would obviously discount their version of events and thereby prove that their close friend Victor was the actual aggressor. Fortunately, however – just like in the movies – literally the night before the first day of trial, I finally found the proverbial needle in the haystack. 

As I was closely examining crime scene photos that I had only recently received from the DA’s Office, I finally spotted the can opener – which both Long Beach Police Department detectives and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office’s prosecutor denied even existed – in the far corner of the living room underneath toddler Ray Garcia’s high chair. Of course, the LBPD themselves had never found it. In other words, this was textbook sloppy and incompetent police work. This photo obviously supported John’s defense.

As John testified, he pulled out the ancient Colt and warned Victor to back off. Instead, Victor picked up this sharp, metal can opener and charged him, forcing John to fire the gun at him in self-defense. However, because Victor had lowered his head during his lunge, the bullet struck the top of his head, seriously wounding him. The force of the blast sent the can opener skittering all the way across the room’s floor until it came to rest beneath Ray’s highchair. 

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, Miguel told police he never even heard this first shot – despite the fact that even young Ray told police he heard “boom, boom”, thereby clearly indicating that he – a child less than three years old — had heard both gunshots.

Miguel’s Attack on John/the Killing of Susan

Immediately after the shooting of Susan, Miguel charged John and grabbed his arm, causing the Colt to accidentally discharge. That bullet struck (in the upper left side of her chest) and killed Susan (and narrowly missed hitting Ray). Ramon also had charged John, but as he himself told police, Miguel had gotten to John first.

Miguel then proceeded to savagely beat John to within an inch of his life, causing him severe injuries, including broken vertebrae in his neck and a broken nose, which required immediate hospitalization. As stated in the police report, “McVoy was covered from head to toe with what appeared to be blood all over him.”

Miguel punched John for minutes on end to the point where he had to stop at least once to catch his breath. The attack was so vicious that Miguel, too, was covered in blood – John’s. The LBPD’s Follow-Up Police Report confirmed that Miguel “had a good amount of blood on his plaid shirt and undershirt.” The report also confirmed that “Long Beach Fire Department … cleared the Witness [Miguel] of any injuries.”

John told the interviewing detective, when the second gunshot was fired, “It wasn’t like I was aiming” at anyone. 

Ramon’s Actions While Miguel Assaulted John

At some point during Miguel’s assault on John, the Colt either fell or was pried from John’s hand, then Ramon picked it up or grabbed it, ran outside, and placed it in a flowerpot. Ramon then re-entered the house, found Ray on the floor next to Susan’s body, then picked up Ray and took him to a neighbor’s house. All the while, Miguel continued thrashing John. 

After returning a second time to the house, the Follow-Up Police Report confirmed, “he [Ramon] saw that Miguel was still fighting with the suspect.” Notably, although the struggle had began in the living room, Miguel and John somehow ended up in the hallway and thereafter in Ray’s bedroom. At some point, upon Miguel’s urging, Ramon came over and kicked John in the head. However, based on the fact that the Follow-Up Report identified red stains on Ramon’s right pant leg and right shoe, Ramon had almost certainly kicked John multiple times. Ramon would admit to police that he had “stomped on John’s stomach.”

Ramon was instructed by Miguel to call 9-1-1. At 7:25 pm, he did just that, telling the operator words to the effect that John had shot Victor and Susan, and that Susan appeared to not be breathing. Meanwhile, Victor remained prone on the ground but was somehow still conscious, despite the serious head wound.

No less than 16 LBPD officers arrived on the scene, where they found Susan and Victor lying on their backs on the kitchen floor, and Miguel straddling John in the living room. Once they secured the scene (by ensuring there was no further danger to anyone), Long Beach Fire Department paramedics were allowed to enter. They thereafter vainly tried to resuscitate Susan, who was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:48 pm. They also treated Victor for his head wound, and John for his numerous injuries from the prolonged beating. According to the police report, “McVoy had a fractured C-2 vertebrae, fractured nose, several lacerations, [and] swelling and bruising.”

Both men were then transported to different local hospitals. At Long Beach Medical Center, Victor, who was in critical condition, underwent emergency surgery to remove a bullet fragment from his brain. Meanwhile, John was treated at College Medical Center. The booking photo of John wearing a neck brace and showing the extent of his injuries, would be a key piece of evidence for the defense.

From the moment John arrived until Susan was shot, only 15 minutes had elapsed.

Post-Arrest Media Attention

John’s arrest sparked widespread media attention in Los Angeles County (although nothing approaching the quasi-international publicity his conviction would instigate), including: CBS Los Angeles (“Man Charged With Killing Woman Who Was Holding Toddler, Shooting Her Husband In Long Beach”):

These articles confirmed the crimes that John was ultimately charged with:

One count of First-Degree Murder (in general) at California Penal Code section 187(a), California Penal Code section 188, California Penal Code section 189(a) & California Penal Code section 190; or, in the alternative, one count of Second-Degree Murder (California Penal Code section 192(a)&(b); California Penal Code section 187);

Two counts of Attempted Murder (“First-Degree Attempted Murder”) (California Penal Code section 664 & Penal Code section 187(a)); and

One count of felony Child Endangerment (California Penal Code section 273a).

A Special Allegation of Personal and Intentional Discharge of a Firearm Causing Great Bodily Injury or Death (California Penal Code section 12022.53(d)).

The articles also confirmed that if convicted, John would be facing life in state prison.