The sister of two men accused in the December 2008 shooting of a Pasco couple told jurors Thursday how police came to her home later that night looking for her brothers.
Virginia Garcia-Morales testified that a detective and an officer came to her door around midnight and asked if she knew the whereabouts of Ramon or Jose Garcia-Morales.
Police would not tell her why the men were wanted, only that "something really serious happened," she said in Spanish through a court interpreter.
Virginia Garcia-Morales took the stand in the Franklin County Superior Court murder trial of her brother Jose. She was called by the defense after prosecutors wrapped up their case Thursday afternoon.
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Jose Garcia-Morales, 28, is accused of going with his brother to a Manzanita Lane home the evening of Dec. 10, 2008, to confront Alfredo Garcia about money the brothers believed they were owed.
The men all worked together in the fields topping onions, and Garcia would assemble a list for the field supervisor of people who notified him they were in need of work. The list was used on a first-come, first-served basis for planting season, but the brothers believed Garcia intentionally passed them over, prosecutors have said.
The conversation grew heated and Garcia, 42, ended up dead from six gunshot wounds. His wife, Maria Ramirez de Garcia, was shot four times but survived.
Ramon Garcia-Morales was convicted by a jury last year. His prison sentence is for 67 years.
On Thursday, defense lawyer Shelley Ajax focused most of her questions for Virginia Garcia-Morales on Ramon and not her client, Jose.
Garcia-Morales said she realized her oldest brother -- the head of their close-knit family -- was in trouble when she stopped by his Kennewick apartment and found an eviction notice. She lived in the same complex.
She testified that the siblings often talked daily and Ramon would help out his family if they needed anything, but she had no idea he was having money problems.
Jose Garcia-Morales called his sister after Ramon went missing for a couple of days and asked her to try to reach him, she said. She told jurors that Ramon got back to her hours later, said he had been away fishing with his wife and daughter and asked Virginia to meet him at a Tri-City gas station so she could pick them up while he returned to fish.
Additionally, Ramon told his sister "he was going to talk to Alfredo, but not to get worried because they were just going to talk to him," Virginia Garcia-Morales testified.
As she walked out of the courtroom, Jose Garcia-Morales -- who has been slumped over for much of the trial -- sat up in his seat and said something out loud in Spanish. Ajax told the court he was talking to his lawyers, wanting to know why Virginia was called as a witness, but Judge Carrie Runge made a record of the outburst.
Garcia-Morales is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, first-degree rendering criminal assistance and two counts of second-degree assault. All of the charges include firearm allegations.
The rendering criminal assistance charge is an alternative option for jurors if they find he was not responsible for the shooting but did help his older brother avoid arrest and hide evidence.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors amended the information so that particular charge now includes aggravating factors of "egregious lack of remorse" and "destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim."
Then, if Garcia-Morales is convicted of rendering criminal assistance and not premeditated murder, prosecutors still can ask that he be locked up for a longer-than-normal prison term.
On Thursday, the first witness called for the defense was Mercede Guerrero, the manager at the Parkridge Apartments in Kennewick.
Guerrero confirmed that Ramon Garcia-Morales had been a tenant between June 2006 and December 2008. He lived there with his wife and a daughter, she testified.
When he failed to pay rent that last month, Guerrero said, she posted a notice on his door on Dec. 4, 2008, informing the Garcia-Morales family they had three days to pay up or they had to vacate the unit. She was unable to serve the notice to him directly, she said.
The family "ended up just abandoning it," she said, telling Ajax she did not know why Garcia-Morales could not pay. Guerrero added that Garcia-Morales had not been a problem tenant until then.
The defense maintains that Jose Garcia-Morales was financially stable and didn't need any money from the victim.
Ajax has told the jury her client only went with his older brother to Alfredo Garcia's home that night because he was worried about Ramon's frame of mind after he disappeared for a few days. Garcia-Morales thought his brother just wanted to talk to Garcia, and took away what he thought was Ramon's only gun before they went inside, Ajax said.
Garcia-Morales denies any involvement in the shooting, with the defense trying to show that he was "merely present" when his brother opened fire.
The defense is calling Ramon Garcia-Morales as a witness and has sent a transport order to the state Department of Corrections, an order signed by Runge. Ramon did not testify in his own trial and his case is on appeal, so it is unlikely he will testify on his brother's behalf.
Ajax also told the court they have subpoenaed several Pasco officers to impeach statements made by the victims' daughters, Erika and Maricela Garcia Ramirez.
"They gave statements at the inception of this case and then they gave very different statements four years later," she said.
Testimony is scheduled to continue today in the Franklin County Courthouse.