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Teen imprisoned for life

 | Published on 12/11/2010


The teenager convicted of fatally shooting an unarmed rival gangmember at a party in unincorporated Redwood City more than two years ago sealed his fate when he stood over the injured victim and continued firing, a judge said during sentencing Friday.

“With those five shots he condemned himself to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Judge Robert Foiles said of Ricardo Garcia.

The order means Garcia, now 19 but 17 at the time of the crime, will die behind bars for the murder of 19-year-old Solomone Zarate. 

Defense attorney Chuck Smith asked Foiles to show a degree of mercy by striking a special gang allegation which made him ineligible for parole. Instead, he asked Foiles to impose 60 years to life, a term he said offered “the chance to live the balance of an old man’s life free.”

But prosecutor Al Giannini insisted Garcia is still a danger to public safety and Zarate’s mother and sister said he must pay the consequences for what they called a cowardly act that devastated their family. Rachael Zarate, Ricardo’s older sister, said she once wondered how somebody decides to take another life but realized it doesn’t matter. 

Even so, they both offered forgiveness to the boy who killed their son and brother. 

“We forgive him and we’re all ready to put this to rest and move on with our lives,” Zarate said.

Lisa Latusila, Zarate’s mother, said she will “pray for his soul, that he turns his life around and serves God and others.”

Jurors deliberated less than two days in May before convicting Garcia of first-degree murder and the special circumstances of using a firearm and acting to benefit a street gang. 

The defense never disputed that Garcia shot Zarate — even as that charge alone carried 25 years in prison — but argued the killing was a matter of imperfect self defense that deserved conviction on a lesser count of voluntary manslaughter.

The prosecution contended Garcia jumped into a fight between his friend and Zarate outside a Sept. 13, 2008 party on Columbia Avenue because he wanted to prove he was the “biggest, baddest” member of the Fair Oaks Park sect of the Norteño gang.

Garcia testified he believed Zarate had a gun because his hand was in his waistband but the 255-pound teen was unarmed. Zarate called out Heller Street, his alleged gang, and Garcia reportedly countered with his affiliation before firing once into the ground and another into his rival. Zarate stumbled away and slid down a vehicle on the opposite side of the street. Garcia followed and fired three more shots before fleeing. He later surrendered accompanied by Smith.

Jurors listened to a week of testimony in which Garcia proved the sole defense witness and the prosecution relied on other partygoers, and two unique pieces of evidence — a photograph taken at the party which showed Garcia with an arm extended toward Zarate and a written account of the encounter confiscated from Garcia’s juvenile hall cell while awaiting trial. The defense said the statement was a way to come clean, written for Bible study.

The prosecution painted Garcia as an active gangmember, complete with Norteño tattoos, who premeditated killing somebody when he carried a loaded gun, showed it off at the party and interjected himself into somebody else’s fight. Smith said his client was only guilty of making a stupid, rash decision and honestly — albeit irrationally — feared Zarate and his associates. Garcia thought Zarate and his friends were armed based on photographs posted online in which they bore weapons, according to Smith.

Smith also claimed his client was not an active gangmember; he reiterated the contention when asking Foiles to strike the gang allegation, saying the evidence in the case didn’t overwhelmingly prove it. He also questioned how any 17-year-old can carefully consider and premeditate any act, let alone murder.

In Friday’s brief sentencing hearing, Garcia did not address the court but did submit a letter expressing deep regret. 

Foiles acknowledged it and the prior efforts of Garcia’s family to turn him away from gangs but said in the end it was up to him.

“Ultimately, it was his choice to do what he did,” Foiles said.