LONG BEACH — A 27-year-old Long Beach woman charged with murder in the 2006 death of her then-boyfriend's 2-year-old son was found not guilty Friday.
Long Beach Superior Court Judge Arthur Jean, who presided over the case against Jennifer Marie Garcia, while issuing his ruling explained to family members of the defendant and the victim that he was bound by law in his decision and had to consider three important factors. One is a law that requires if there are two reasonable explanations for what happened in the case and one points to guilt while the other points to innocence, a judge or jury must find in favor of innocence.
"I'm a hard as nails trial judge and I will go where the evidence takes me, whether I like it or not," Jean told the crowded courtroom.
Garcia had waived the right to a jury trial, leaving the verdict decision to the judge.
As Jean declared Garcia not guilty, her family and friends leapt to their feet in joy as the family of the dead boy sat numb with shock.
The judge explained the experts called by both the prosecution and the defense were stellar and believable. That, coupled with the defendant's complete lack of a criminal history and no other reports of child abuse, either with the victim before he died or with her own son and the children of family and friends before and after the incident, all gave weight to the defense argument that the death of Landon K. was a tragic accident.
Garcia was charged with second-degree murder in the death of the child, who suffered head injuries Nov. 16, 2006, and was removed from life-support the following day. The defendant, however, wasn't arrested for the killing until December 2010, following years of investigative work by Long Beach Police Department detectives and Los Angeles County Coroner medical examiners.
At the time of the incident, Garcia told authorities the toddler was playing near a staircase when he fell at the apartment complex where the couple lived, in the 4400 block of Lakewood Boulevard. She told investigators, who were called by hospital staff suspicious of the death, that the fall was an accident, police said.
Hospital staff and police, however, said the injuries to the child's face did not match up with Garcia's claim the boy fell backward and landed face up at the bottom of a concrete, tile and metal staircase.
On Thursday, Garcia testified that she, her son and the victim were walking down the stairs on the way to the car when she noticed Landon was not holding onto the railing. She said she told the little boy to use the railing, and he turned around and told her "OK."
"And then his feet crossed and he fell backward," she said.
Deputy District Attorney June Chung said outside the court she was disappointed with the ruling though she understood the judge's reasoning and appreciated him taking the time to explain how he arrived at his decision.
"We have to respect his decision, whether we agree with it or not," said Long Beach Police Department Homicide Detective Malcolm Evans. "It still makes it a bitter pill to swallow."
Garcia declined comment, but her attorney, Jay Glaser, said he stood by his opening statement in which he declared his utmost respect for the veteran jurist and he said he would have felt that way even if the judge hadn't decided in his client's favor.
"She'll go back to Spencer, who is 9 years old, and still do the best she can," Glaser said of Garcia's son, as her family members hugged the attorney and thanked him.
"But this loss will always be with her and she will continue to cry about it every day and will still continue to suffer every day of her life."