The fate of Estevan Garcia and Sacora Horn-Garcia now rests with a jury.
Closing statements were given Thursday in Deschutes County Circuit Court in the case of a Redmond couple accused of starving their 5-year-old daughter to death in 2016.
Garcia, 35, and Horn-Garcia, 33, are charged with aggravated murder for the death of Maliyha Hope Garcia. She weighed 24 pounds at the time of her death.
They both face two counts each of first-degree criminal mistreatment under the theory they intentionally withheld food and medical care.
Instead of murder, the jury could opt to convict the couple of first-degree manslaughter or second-degree manslaughter.
Maliyha was adopted by Garcia and his then-girlfriend shortly after the girl was born and tested positive for meth.
Garcia and Horn-Garcia married Dec. 31, 2014. She brought to the marriage three daughters older than Maliyha.
The day began with the prosecution’s closing statement given by Deputy District Attorney Stacy Neil.
The prosecution alleges Garcia and Horn-Garcia singled out Maliyha among their four, and later five, children. Horn-Garcia admitted under questioning she was “hell-bent” on getting Maliyha to “use her words.”
But Maliyha did not go quietly, Neil said.
“She was a fighter,” she said. “She was sneaking out in the middle of the night to get food. She would gorge herself at day care.”
The prosecution alleges that for more than a year — most of the couple’s relationship — Horn-Garcia tormented the girl by forcing her to verbally ask whenever she wished to eat, leave her room or use the bathroom — aka “using her words.”
“This is outrageous. It is unthinkable that in Redmond, Oregon, this could happen,” she said. “You can’t even fathom this kind of extraordinary lack of care and concern. How does this happen?”
And Garcia shouldn’t be let off the hook because he was a good parent to Maliyha before he married Horn-Garcia, Neil said.
Attorneys for the defendants asked jurors for different things in their closing arguments.
Jon Weiner, attorney for Garcia, asked the jury to convict his client of second-degree manslaughter.
When he took the witness stand, Garcia admitted partial guilt and said he should be held accountable for allowing his wife to starve their daughter.
On the other side, Horn-Garcia’s attorney Aaron Brenneman denied his client was guilty but asked that if the jury did find her responsible for Maliyha’s death, it should convict her of second-degree manslaughter.
Weiner discussed how a case like this involve a strong emotional response.
“It’s a heart-wrenching case. How do you not get emotional?” he said. “How do you deliberate dispassionately.”
Many of those who broke down on the witness stand were experienced police officers and medical professionals. Many offered pained testimony that Maliyha appeared to have been dead before any first responders saw her, and because Horn-Garcia erroneously told them she’d been “fine” several minutes earlier, they worked feverishly to save a girl who was already lost.
Brenneman raised doubts about that conclusion.
“Be careful with officers and nonmedical people saying medical things,” he said.
Brenneman noted that Maliyha’s heart kicked back on in the emergency room and beat for nine minutes.
“This is important because the state wants you to believe that these people are horrible monsters and let their daughter sit, dead before calling the hospital,” he said.
Brenneman spent much of his presentation taking jurors through a series of photos. Photographic evidence has factored prominently in the case, with investigators using pictures pulled from Horn-Garcia’s Facebook page to document Maliyha wasting away. But the photos Brenneman showed purport to show a loving family.
Horn-Garcia’s lawyers have attempted to show she was concerned with Maliyha’s health and welfare.
Garcia admitted that he didn’t do enough to save Maliyha. He said his guilt was obvious in hindsight and that he deserved punishment, but he stopped short of admitting to murder.
The prosecution repeatedly described the case as a puzzle throughout the five-week trial. In her closing statement, prosecutor Kandy Gies used a powerpoint presentation identifying 20 separate “puzzle pieces” from the trial that she said point to guilt.
“Each piece corroborates the other pieces,” she said.
The pieces include the alarm the couple kept on Maliyha’s bedroom door to notify them when she attempted to get food in the kitchen. There’s also the parenting handbook Garcia earned upon becoming certified as a foster-adoptive parent to Maliyha.
“Kids don’t come with an instruction manual,” Neil said, “except for this one kind of did.”
Jurors will also have access to the more than 25,000 text messages sent between the couple from September 2015 until Maliyha’s death Dec. 21, 2016. A separate, binder contains 711 of those texts that concern Maliyha.
Of all the state’s evidence, Gies said the text messages are the strongest.
“It is so hard to learn what goes in cases of child abuse and neglect,” she said. “This is our window in their lives, their world and their rocky relationship.”
In several of the texts in evidence, Garcia stands up for his daughter and tells his wife her instability is creating an unsafe environment for Maliyha.
But it wasn’t nearly enough, according to prosecutors.
“The thing is, he always backed down,” Neil said. “He never took it further.”
The jury is scheduled to deliberate all day Friday or until a verdict is reached.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org