Jurors reached a guilty verdict on Monday in the trial of a biker involved in a June 2012 shootout with police.
Edward Garza was found guilty of one count each of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and aiming a firearm at a human being or discharging a firearm where a person might be endangered following a five-day trial in the case.
He was found not guilty of a second count of assault with a deadly weapon as well as carrying a concealed weapon.
The verdict came back around 5:30 p.m. Monday evening after jurors deliberated the matter for more than three hours following closing arguments in the case.
Once the verdict was announced, Garza was remanded back into the custody of the sheriff’s office where he will remain until his sentencing hearing on Nov. 4.
Garza took the position throughout the trial that he fired his .45 caliber Llama at police only in self-defense after Deputy Wesley Fancher fired the first shot outside Garza’s home at 4790 E. Manse Road.
The Hessians Motorcycle Club member took the stand in his own defense on Friday. He told the court he shot into the ground that afternoon attempting to scare off Fancher and fellow Deputy Summer Dannecker to buy himself time to find cover after the first shot was fired. But eventually, the state riddled his defense full of holes.
“He shot at me and then after that first round, she shot. He shot first then she shot. I brought the gun over to my chest and cocked it … I did that so I could shoot it into the ground so I could scare them away so I could try to get away because right after he shot, she shot, then all hell broke loose. They started opening up and I opened up,” he said. “I didn’t want to shoot him. I wanted to defuse the situation. I had no reason to shoot at him.”
Garza told the court he picked up his gun, which was sitting by his feet outside when police arrived, in an attempt to follow conflicting commands Dannecker and Fancher were allegedly giving him to both show his hands and his weapon. He claimed he did not aim it at either of the deputies.
When asked by the state if Garza thought Fancher had any reason to shoot him other than the gun in his hand, Garza replied he couldn’t think of one, but noted he thought the deputy looked scared.
“I think he panicked,” he said.
When asked why he would have two loaded guns — a .32 caliber Cobra was also in Garza’s possession — when police arrived, Garza told the court he was waiting for a friend to come pick him up so he could pawn them for rent money.
“I was going to go try to pawn them or sell them because we needed money for rent,” he said.
Fancher and Dannecker both testified throughout the trial that Garza was not in fact shooting at the ground as he claimed, but rather had his gun pointed at Fancher the entire time.
They also told the court that Fancher gave no commands to Garza prior to the shootout to show police his weapon. Their position was Garza picked up the loaded gun to engage police in a firefight.
Fancher said he chose to fire after he recognized the item Garza had picked up off the ground was in fact a gun and Garza appeared to be aiming it at the deputy’s upper body.
Detective Eric Murphy, the lead investigator on the case, also testified during the trial that he did not find any holes or marks in the ground consistent with a .45 caliber gun being fired at the ground.
In his closing argument, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kirk Vitto told jurors deputies wouldn’t have had to fire at Garza had he not chosen to pick up his guns when he was asked to show his hands.
“Isn’t it just common sense that when you are told to put your hands up you don’t then bend down and pick up a gun? Especially when you know why law enforcement is present? You know you just fired your gun into the ceiling and sent your house guest in a panicked sprint for help,” he told jurors.
“You bring your everyday common sense as a reasonable man or woman to the deliberation of the facts. If the reasonable solution to this dilemma, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, he told you he had a dilemma. I’ve got one officer telling me to show her my hands and I’ve got another officer to show them my weapon. His reasonable solution was to pick up a gun in the face of a deputy sheriff, who according to him was screaming orders at him and pointing a gun at him. If that’s true, he had two guns there, why not pick up both. If what he’s saying is truth, shouldn’t he show both? Why not say ‘I’ve got another one.’ Or at least ‘OK officer I’m picking up my gun.’ Or the best one that solves all of this, ‘I’ve got two guns on the ground.’ Let’s talk about what’s reasonable. His solution, if you believe him, is unreasonable,” Vitto said.
To further demonstrate how quickly officers had to act that afternoon, Vitto had those in the room sit silently for 49 seconds. The amount of time that lapsed between the time Fancher arrived at the Manse Road address to the time the first shot was fired.
“There’s a big difference between five seconds and 49 seconds. It took 49 seconds between the time deputy Fancher arrived and Deputy Dannecker called in shots fired. And it was in that call we heard Dannecker say he’s going for the gun again Wes. You get to decide whether that’s an insurmountable piece of evidence for the defendant,” Vitto told jurors.
Defense Attorney Jason Earnest, on the other hand, argued to jurors that his client had every right to have the guns at his feet on his own property and that his client had the right to defend himself if he felt his life was threatened.
“This comes down to who do you believe. I told you in my opening Eddie shot into the ceiling. I told you that Summer Dannecker was the first there. I told you Wes Fancher was there approximately a minute later. This isn’t a who-done-it. It’s a who-done-what. Who’s responsible, that’s what this is,” Earnest said. “We talked in jury selection about the badge on your chest or your hip, is that a magic elixir that makes you a truthful person? No.”
The defense attorney told jurors to remember that the scene was calm until Fancher arrived. He reiterated that his client only picked up his gun in an attempt to appease both officers who the defense says were giving competing commands to both show them his hands and his weapon at the same time.
“Sit, roll over, show me your hands. They’re competing commands. He does what he’s asked. He reached down to pick up the weapon to show them. As he comes up he shows his left hand, we know that even Summer Dannecker admits that, and then young Wes Fancher, I’m not saying he was trying to kill him, I don’t know what he was thinking, he’s amped up, he’s a young cop, he heard that shots were fired, he comes code three, racing down there, gets out of his car, gun drawn and boom. Shoots at Eddie Garza. Shoots center mass,” he said.
“And we’re in America guys. I don’t care if you’re wearing a badge or an American flag wrapped around your head or a beard on your face, when you’re on your own property and a cop shoots at you, without any reason when you’re trying to comply, you have a right to defend yourself and that’s what he did.”
Jurors ultimately sided with the state on three of the five counts filed against Garza, the most serious the attempted murder of a police officer.
Following the verdict, Earnest said the defense was obviously disappointed in the outcome, but he respected the jurors’ decision and thought they did a good job taking the case seriously in considering the outcome.
“Of course I want to win and I believe in my client’s innocence, but we have a great appellate issue,” Earnest said. “(Judge Robert Lane) kept it clean, but there was something said in the expert testimony on the DA’s redirect that I objected to and asked for a mistrial. I think it’s a great appellate issue and we fully intend to appeal it.”