A vehicle transporting a convicted killer to Franklin County to testify in his brother's murder trial broke down Monday afternoon an hour away.
Ramon Garcia-Morales was scheduled to take the witness stand in the case of Jose Garcia-Morales, who is charged in the 2008 shooting of a Pasco family.
Ramon Garcia-Morales already is doing time for his role in the crime, and defense lawyers are hoping he will tell jurors that his younger brother did not shoot or point a gun at the victims.
Jose Garcia-Morales, 28, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court 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.
His trial started March 21 and, in that time, Judge Carrie Runge has signed two orders for the state Department of Corrections to transfer Ramon from the Monroe Correctional Complex to the courthouse in Pasco.
On Monday morning, defense attorney Shelley Ajax told the court she had learned that Ramon was on his way and scheduled to arrive between 2 and 3 p.m. But at 2:30 p.m. -- 15 minutes before jurors were expected back in court for the afternoon session -- Ajax got word the Department of Corrections vehicle was broken down along Interstate 82 in Zillah.
A corrections officer from the Franklin County jail also came in to the court to advise the judge.
The vehicle transporting Ramon Garcia-Morales apparently stalled along the highway and would not start back up. Officials from the Snohomish County prison reportedly were responding to Zillah to either fix the vehicle or drive the officers and inmate, with department officials from Yakima also heading down the interstate to give roadside assistance.
Ajax said at that point that Ramon likely would not arrive until 4:30 p.m. after court was done for the day. She said it was not clear if the crew was going to return Ramon to Monroe for the night, or bring him to the Franklin County jail or a nearby state facility.
Special Prosecutor Amy Harris objected to the delay, asking if Ramon Garcia-Morales has even agreed to testify in his brother's case.
Ramon remained silent through his own trial last May and is appealing his conviction, which came with a 67-year, two-months prison sentence.
"My understanding is he has not been communicating with any attorneys," Harris said.
Ajax said she has been frank about her dealings with her client's older brother and her attempts to get him to explain Jose's involvement.
"I'm not positive what he's going to do, however I have an ethical duty to bring him before the court and to question him," Ajax said.
She further told Judge Runge she had a meeting with Ramon, and said he's not in the best condition but indicated he would testify.
Runge was not happy about sending the jury home Monday afternoon right after they returned to the courthouse. She noted that jurors heard about one hour of testimony Monday and maybe 30 minutes on Friday.
"This is certainly frustrating, primarily because this jury has had way too much down time," Runge said. "... I recognize the state's frustration and concern. Frankly, the court is inclined to agree with all of their comments. But under the circumstances, I recognize, and agree with Ms. Ajax and Mr. (Moe) Spencer, that they have a responsibility to represent (the client) to the best of their ability."
Runge also said she was not pleased that the trial process was "being hamstrung essentially by the Department of Corrections" because it was slow to transfer Ramon across the state after two court orders.
Runge signed a supplemental order Monday afternoon saying state corrections officers must have Ramon Garcia-Morales on the courthouse campus by 8 a.m. today and be prepared for court to start at 8:30 a.m.
Runge added that the officers might not be able to get into the courthouse building when the security shack is closed, but they can get into the jail "any time, day or night."
Jose Garcia-Morales is accused of going with his older brother on Dec. 10, 2008, to confront Alfredo Garcia about money the brothers believed they were owed.
At some point, Ramon Garcia-Morales opened fire on Garcia, then shot his wife when Maria Ramirez de Garcia came out of the bathroom to find out why the men were in heated conversation.
Garcia died from being shot six times. Ramirez de Garcia survived her four gunshot wounds but was paralyzed and now uses a wheelchair to get around.
Prosecutors allege Jose Garcia-Morales held a second gun and may have pointed it at the couple's teen daughters during the incident.
On Monday, Special Prosecutor Terry Bloor informed the court he was withdrawing the rendering criminal assistance.
The defense then asked that jurors be allowed to consider unlawful display of a firearm as an alternative to each assault charge for the girls.
Pasco Detective Steve Thatsana was called by the defense about his interview with Erika Garcia Ramirez a short time after the teen saw her parents shot. The recording of his interview was played for jurors.
Ajax asked Thatsana if he continued to ask the girl some questions that night once the recording was turned off. Thatsana said yes, telling jurors that Erika had said Ramon pointed the gun at her and her sister and it appeared as if he was going to shoot them, and Jose stopped him.
Thatsana also testified that when he went to Erika later with a photo montage to see if she could pick out the shooting suspects, the girl immediately recognized Jose and said he was the guy standing by the door holding a black gun.
Ajax wanted to know if the girl told Thatsana who the actual shooter was of the two suspects. "I asked her if she saw Jose shooting her father or mother. She told me, 'No.'"
Officer Raul Cavazos also testified about his interview with Maricela Garcia Ramirez. He told the defense that the teen couldn't recall if Jose had pointed a gun at them, but said he did not fire his pistol.
Special Prosecutor Harris asked: "She stated Jose at no time did anything to stop the shooting of her mother and father?"
"That's correct," Cavazos answered.
The trial resumes this morning in the Franklin County Courthouse.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org