More than four years after Los Gatos restaurateur Mark Achilli was gunned down in front of his townhome, a Santa Clara County judge Thursday afternoon finally sentenced the man whom a jury found guilty of first-degree murder in the shocking death of the former Mountain Charley's Saloon owner to life in prison without parole.
During a packed court hearing in department 34 of the San Jose Hall of Justice, Superior Court Judge David Cena ended all the legal wrangling that the high-profile case had endured at the hands of respected criminal defense attorney Edward Sousa, denying a retrial motion and sentencing Garcia for the crime a jury found him guilty of committing on Oct. 26, 2010.
The shooting death of 53-year-old Achilli, shot eight times in the driveway of his Overlook Road townhouse on the morning of March 14, 2008, shocked the small town of Los Gatos.
A two-hour hearing began with Cena explaining how a motion to disqualify him from the case because he had read Garcia's former attorney Harry Robertson's response to the retrial motion had been denied. He also said an appeals court had agreed that there was no reason for Cena to be removed from the case.
The judge then proceeded to explain to Sousa, accompanied by former Santa Clara County Judge Gregory Ward—helping pro-bono in Garcia's defense—how to avoid prejudice and bias in the case should it be appealed, he had redacted portions of Robertson's 68-page declaration to preserve the attorney-client privilege.
Robertson, who was present, filed an additional response and Cena indicated several objections raised by Sousa were sustained with multiple lines being blacked out.
Sousa and Ward complained that the judge was reading the pages with the redacted lines of Robertson's declaration too quickly for them to write down the information.
Retrial Motion is Denied
Judge Cena then brought up the retrial motion based on the allegation of ineffective counsel by Robertson. Sousa, Ward and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen were allowed to offer arguments. However, Rosen declined to offer any.
Fighting until the end to represent Garcia to the best of his ability, Sousa wanted to cross-examine Robertson and conduct an evidentiary hearing, who had been subpoenaed to the hearing. The judge, however, denied that request.
"The court doesn't know if Mr. Robertson is telling the truth in this declaration," Sousa said. "The defense has a right to question his credibility, his knowledge, his bias, his recollection and his motive for his action or inaction.
"It's our contention that there are portions of Mr. Robertson's declaration that are both disingenuous and contrived and not accurate ... the court should not accept what Mr. Robertson wrote in his declaration as gospel because there are things in his declaration that are simply not true," Sousa said.
Sousa said during trial Robertson had mentioned how pivotal witness Robert Jacome had been and then at the time of the defense, he decided not to call Jacome to the witness stand to prove an alternative motive for the crime, which the defense contended was drug related and not a love triangle over a female bartender.
Judge Cena took several minutes during the hearing to address points raised in the retrial motion, basically striking down all of them and disagreeing with their assertions.
"I presided over the trial, I presided over the pretrial hearings ... I presided over all the sidebar conferences in chambers and the proceedings outside the presence of the jury ... the court's ruling on the motion for a new trial is that the motion is denied," Cena said.
Jude Cena also denied Thursday a defense request for an evidentiary hearing to determine what exactly a Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department officer had reviewed on surveillance footage of Mountain Charley's Saloon and the former 180 Restaurant and Lounge during March of 2008.
Rosen, however, said the footage the defense reviewed is what the officer viewed. "It's not that the footage is missing, it's that there was no footage," Rosen said. "What the defense viewed is what [the] officer saw."
Judge Cena, addressing Garcia directly, reminded him that he had been found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury in the death of Achilli in October of 2010. Cena said the jury found the allegation of Garcia not being the actual killer with the intent to kill and induced, solicited or requested or acted in commission of murder in the first degree untrue.
Several so-called character letters on behalf of Garcia were submitted to Judge Cena as he weighed the sentence. The missives expressed shock at Garcia's conviction and described his character as kind, loving and positive.
Judge Cena said he had also read the victim's family statements and the jurors', with the latter "presenting a very different picture of Mr. Garcia. I respect the jurors' findings."
As the sentence was read, Garcia sat emotionless, looking down on papers he had taken out of a box he carried as he entered the courtroom dressed in Santa Clara County Department of Corrections clothing and shackled at his hands and feet.
Denying probation, Judge Cena sentenced Garcia on count one of murder to life without the possibility of parole and he received 1,506 days of prison credit. He was forbidden from ever owning a firearm and was remanded to San Quentin State Prison.
Garcia was also ordered to pay restitution and a claim by Michelle Achilli to cover her husband's funeral expenses and other costs, which will be later determined.
Garcia appealed the sentence immediately after it was handed down with Sousa presenting such notice during the proceedings. The appelate court will find an attorney to represent him, Cena explained.
Widow's, Mother's Reaction to Sentence
In the courtroom Thursday were Michelle Achilli, Mark Achilli's widow, his daughter and other family members and friends. Many Los Gatos residents as well as members from the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department were also present during the intense hearing.
Connie Garcia, Paul Garcia's mother, brother Erik and relatives and friends were also in attendance wearing white solidarity ribbons on their lapels that said, "We support Paul."
Both women read statements before the court after Judge Cena declared he would be sentencing Garcia.
Michelle Achilli thanked Rosen, his prosecution team, the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department and the town of Los Gatos "for supporting our family throughout this huge nightmare."
"You guys are responsible for bringing the monsters responsible for Mark's execution and that's exactly what it was," she said. "He was shot eight times in front of his own home."
To Judge Cena, Michelle Achilli offered words of praise for his "patience and professionalism."
Having her husband gone for four years "has not been an easy road," she said. "Mark was not a perfect man, but he was a larger than life person. He had a heart of gold ... he was the love of my life."
Since his murder, Michelle Achilli said her family of three children has grown adding three new grandchildren, a son getting married, a new baby expected and a daughter graduating from college in June. "Mark won't be here to see any of those things because somebody decided that he should die."
She called the sentencing bittersweet because "a part of me is missing and those bullets that were fired ... they didn't just hit Mark they hit his friends and his family."
"I'm angry that Paul killed Mark ... Paul is a sociopathic killer. He has no interest in anything but himself and getting himself off. I have nothing to say to him, except I feel sorry for his family ... I ask that he be given life in prison without the possibility of parole. Let him die in prison."
Michelle Achilli also said Garcia had never displayed any remorse. "He's a narcissist ... the time has come ... I'm so sure that if he was ever let out of prison that he would kill again if anyone got in his way just as he did this one time. I know Mark is with us here today and I know that he finally feels we can put him to rest."
She also said she had been waiting a long time for the sentence and could now have closure.
Garcia's mother also had a chance to address the judge and expressed her sympathy to Achilli's family and related how the ordeal had been taxing not just on Achilli's family, but also on hers as well.
"I can understand the need to solve a crime, however, I feel that it is unjust to try to solve a crime in an unjustly manner," she said adding that she believed law enforcement was aggressively seeking a culprit in the crime.
Connie Garcia said the family and Paul Garcia were naive after the crime occurred speaking and cooperating with law enforcement officials "only to find that they were against him."
"My feeling was always how can a jury believe a testimony of a person who was given a deal for the sake of the prosecution. How can a jury believe witnesses that even the judge believed were lying? How can information be manipulated by the police and prosecution to convict a person?" Connie Garcia said.
She then said her son was targeted from the beginning of the investigation by law enforcement and the media. "My son Paul has always been a good son, a good brother and a good person," she stated. "This is not something that my son would do."
Paul Garcia's success was also seen as negative, she continued, by the judicial system and the Los Gatos community. She cited an August 2011 article in the San Jose Mercury News that stated Garcia was considered as a "climber from the wrong side of the tracks."
"I can't help but feel he was convicted simply because of the color of his skin and his ethnicity ... racial prejudice is still prevalent in Santa Clara County," she said.
When her time was cut off by Judge Cena, Connie Garcia yelled, "I will continue to stand by my son."