EDINBURG — A 27-year-old Edinburg man sentenced in September to 50 years in prison for murder won’t get a new trial.
State District Judge Roberto “Bobby” Flores denied the motion after a hearing that lasted several hours Monday where Bernardo Garcia Jr. claimed his former attorneys failed to explore his “known mental illnesses,” among other claims centering around ineffective assistance.
Flores sentenced Garcia on Sept. 19 to five decades for his role in the shooting death of 26-year-old Edinburg resident Marquis Devon Holiday on July 29, 2017.
Garcia’s co-defendant, 33-year-old McAllen resident Mario Powell has entered a not guilty plea to capital murder and is scheduled for trial in late January.
The men were arrested after the shooting at 1014 Tori Lane in what police at the time called a drug deal gone wrong.
During Monday’s hearing, Norma Villanueva, a licensed social worker who has a doctorate in psychology, testified that Garcia suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome that caused him to be unable to understand his plea agreement.
The PTSD is a result of an unverified kidnapping in Mexico when he was 16-years-old.
In an affidavit, Garcia claims members of a drug cartel kidnapped him, put a bag over his head and handcuffed him.
“I was driven to an unknown location when they took my head cover off. I saw several dead people inside this location,” Garcia said in his affidavit. “The men told me that they were going to get rid of my body in the same way they were going to get rid of those dead bodies — by throwing me into the acid bin.”
He claims to have been tortured before eventually being released.
“After that experience, I began having flashbacks to that day, feeling as though people were after me or were going to hurt me even though they were not going to,” Garcia said in the affidavit.
Villanueva testified that PTSD and Garcia’s drug use, which began at the age of 14 and included marijuana, alcohol, Xanax, heroin, crack cocaine and other drugs, impacted his cognitive function.
She told the court Garcia appeared confused about the plea when he spoke to her.
However, Villanueva also admitted she only spent 90 minutes interviewing Garcia, that she did not verify the Mexico kidnapping claim and that she had not reviewed any of Garcia’s former attorneys’ files from the case.
Those attorneys, Roy Garza and Mario Ramirez, also testified at Monday’s hearings.
Through his attorney, Ricardo “Rick” Salinas, Garcia levied a multitude of allegations against the men, claiming they rarely visited him and failed to show him numerous pieces of evidence, including photos and surveillance videos.
“Mr. Garcia could not make an informed decision on whether to plead guilty because he did not know all of the evidence that existed against him,” the motion stated.
On Monday, however, Salinas spent much of his time questioning the attorneys about why they didn’t pursue a self defense theory.
Garza and Ramirez said there wasn’t a viable self defense theory based on the facts of the case, including that Holiday was not armed and was apparently passed out before the shooting.
Both men also admitted Garcia admitted to the shooting, though their testimony clarified that he admitted to shooting in the air.
“Additionally, Mr. Garcia’s attorney’s failed to explore whether Mr. Garcia is mentally competent or whether he has a viable insanity defense,” the motion for a new trial stated.
The men also said they found Garcia to be mentally competent in their meetings with him throughout the proceedings.
In his affidavit, Garcia echoed those allegations, including complaining that the attorneys never advised him about parole.
“Had I known that getting out at 25 years was only possible but not guaranteed, I would never have accepted the plea deal,” Garcia wrote. “Had my lawyers given me proper representation by properly advising me about parole, providing me the evidence that the State had, and pursuing issues arising out of my mental health issue, I would never have plead guilty and waived my right to appeal.”
Garza testified he told Garcia he “probably” would have to serve 25 years.
Both he and Ramirez also testified that Garcia told them he didn’t want to go to trial and that they counseled him on his plea.
Even Flores, the judge, recalled the hearing where he accepted the plea, remarking that he went through the agreement with Garcia step-by-step.
As for that affidavit, when asked what was incorrect in it, Garza was concise.
“Everything,” he said.