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Stories Added - March 2009
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Inmate found guilty in 2004 murder
Polk County Enterprise - March 2009
LIVINGSTON — A Polk County jury found Greg Garcia guilty of manslaughter in connection with the 2004 strangulation death of Carl Washington, his cellmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Polunsky Unit. Garcia has been held in the Polk County jail since his release from TDCJ in 2004. He had served three-and-a-half years of a fouryear sentence for assault on a public servant that occurred in El Paso County when Washington was found face down in his cell following an altercation with Garcia. Prosecutor Mark Mullin with the Texas Special Prosecution Unit suggested Washington died of asphyxiation after being placed in a headlock during a physical “tussle” with Garcia in their cell. According to testimony from inmates in an adjoining cell, the incident came on the heels of a verbal altercation between the cellmates. Bonny Lee Howard and Terry Pearson, both from Dallas, were in an adjoining cell at the time of the alleged murder. They testifi ed the victim had boasted that he intended to gratify himself sexually when the “commissary lady” delivered his order. Commissary staff members make deliveries to inmates in their cells. Pearson, a trans-gendered female, described Washington’s conduct when the commissary staff member arrived. Pearson went on to say Garcia became enraged over the incident and yelled profanities at Washington before the fi ght broke out Defense attorney Scott Pawgan attempted to paint a picture of Garcia as a victim during his crossexamination of Pearson. Pawgan suggested Garcia may have been “punked” by other inmates. Both Howard and Pearson testified that the term “punked” means an inmate has been subordinated by another inmate and suffers humiliating abuse in front of other inmates. The dominating inmate may also force the other inmate to go without food or showering for extended periods of time. According to Pawgan, in the two weeks prior to the alleged murder, Garcia had been moved to as many as four different cells because of harassment from his various “cellies.“ Pearson said.
“They was switching him from cell to cell, they would just chunk him.” “Chunking” is another prison slang term that can refer to throwing body waste or other foul objects on another inmate or prison staff. It’s not clear whether Pearson refers to that activity or just the act of moving Garcia from cell to cell. One cellmate that shared a cell with Garcia prior to Washington reportedly forced Garcia to do things for him in their cell. “He was talking to him crazy, yelling out the door what he was making him do,” Pearson said. “You don’t know unless you’re in there. Any weakling they do like in school. Weak is like that,” Pearson said as she pointed to Garcia, “I’m not like that.” The cell Garcia and Washington shared was approximately 6-feet by 9-feet. A shower unit adjoins the cell on one side and another cell is on the other. Both Pearson and Howard took turns looking through a peephole between the two cells while fighting ensued. While one looked on, the other frantically called for help. “We were the only ones who could hear the fight,” Howard said. As Pawgan cross-examined Howard and Pearson, he tried to establish a motive of self-defense by claiming that Washington had begun to “lace up” — meaning he was putting on his boots to prepare for a fight. “Lacing up is like armoring up,” Howard said. It is understood in prison that the first to get laced up can immediately begin the fight regardless of whether the other is prepared. When asked whether he would fight if he saw another inmate lacing up Howard said, “If we can’t resolve it by talking.”
Pawgan asked if inmates pause to rest in the middle of a fight before resuming. “I guess if you want to stop fighting, but that’s not going to happen,” Howard said. “Not where I was.” The defense also tried to establish a timeline for the attack, suggesting an inordinate amount of time may have passed before guards finally arrived in force to break up the fight. “If the officers could have come sooner instead of acting like they were playing. He thought we was joking,” Pearson said. “I don’t know what he thought.” Howard said once the picket officer was alerted, a guard was dispatched to investigate the situation. The investigating officer then called for reinforcements using a remote signaling device. A team of guards entered the cell to address the situation, but by then Garcia had released his hold on Washington. The victim was found face down on the floor of the cell. Guards reported Washington had a pulse initially, but they began CPR as guards rolled him out on a gurney. “If you’re in a cell, just because someone is fighting, it doesn’t mean there’s going to be someone there to break it up.” Howard said. When asked whether he would continue to fight until his opponent was incapacitated, Howard, a 12- year prison veteran said, “or until they’re dead. You’ve got to make sure for your own safety.
First time I’ve seen a person get killed in the whole 10 years I was down there.” Garcia has been incarcerated in a number of institutions since leaving prison in 2004 where he finished serving his four-year sentence for assault on a public servant. He has bounced between Vernon State Hospital, Skyview (a TDCJ psychiatric unit in Cherokee County), the Duncan transfer unit and the Polk County jail. He takes Clozapine and Thorazine on a daily basis and has been forced to take these medications in the courtroom during recess outside the presence of the jury. When the trial resumed after lunch, the jury was brought in and Garcia suddenly declared to his attorney he had changed his mind and did not want to take the stand. Texas law requires a defendant claiming self defense to take the stand in his own defense. It is impossible to plead the fifth amendment and self defense at the same time. As quickly as he had decided to not take the stand, Garcia changed his mind and decided to stick with the defense his attorney had planned. The jury was brought back in and he took the stand. On Monday defense attorney Pawgan had gone to great lengths to demonstrate that “lacing up” indicated a willingness to attack, and that Washington had been the one to lace-up first, and Washington was the one to initiate the ensuing fight. During cross examination, prosecuting attorney Mullin asked Garcia how he had reacted to Washington’s sexually explicit behavior in front of him. “I asked ‘What are you doing Washington?.’
He said ‘What do you think I am doing.” “In prison we box around with one another. We end up with a busted lip or something,” Garcia said. “We boxed before and he didn”t have a heart attack, but this time he did. We weren’t even fighting very hard.” Mullin asked who had decided to lace up first and Garcia said, “I decided to put my shoes on first.” “You both agreed to fight,” Mullin asked. “We agreed to fight when we started to put our shoes on,” Garcia said. “Stop sir.” Mullin asked Garcia if he had trouble controlling his temper. Garcia replied, “Not really. I’ve been in maybe like three fights in my life, that were serious. Like I said, we were just playing. It was not about rape. The only time I ever killed somebody was in a military situation.” However, Garcia has never served in the military. He then turned to his defense attorney and said, “Is this all right Scott? Sir?” There was no visible or audible response from his attorney. Mullin then presented a letter Garcia had written to his mother but never mailed. Garcia began to get visibly irritated. “What are you guys doing with my letters? You guys shouldn’t have my stuff like that.” He was then informed that it was taken from his cell to be used as evidence. “I never mailed this out. I was just getting out anger.” “All right Scott?” Garcia asked. “You’re doing fine Greg,” Pawgan said. Garcia was then asked to read a line from the letter. “I’ve been fighting with my cellies because of my problem that I don’t know how to deal with my feelings about my own past. I have to come to terms with myself before I hurt someone badly or kill someone. Mom everything is going all right, going great.
I couldn’t be happier.” During cross examination by Pawgan, Garcia was asked why there were so many different moods in his letter to his mother. “Like I said, I wrote about everything I was feeling,” Garcia said. Pawgan referred to testimony from a previous witness who described some of the abuse Garcia had suffered and asked Garcia if it were true. Garcia replied, “No. He didn’t say that.” Pawgan tried again to approach the subject of sexual abuse by saying, “I know you don’t like to talk about it but … ” Pawgan passed the witness to the prosecution without Garcia’s answer. Mullin immediately asked, “When you were at the Polunsky unit were people messing with you?” “Not really,” Garcia said. “Were you having trouble with people trying to rape you?” Mullin asked. “No sir. That doesn’t really go on at TDCJ,” Garcia said. “The only reason I wrote that letter on the bus coming back from Skyview was because they put me on this bus right after they drugged me.” “On that bus ride from Skyview you had a problem with another inmate, right?” Mullin asked. “No sir. Like I said, I was drugged,” Garcia said. “They gave me a shot this big that made me feel like I had a bubble in my brain.” Mullin then asked Garcia if he was able to control his temper and Garcia answered, “Yes sir.” Closing arguments were made by each attorney and the jury deliberated for four hours before returning with a guilty verdict for manslaughter.
The sentencing phase of the trial has been scheduled for April 17. Garcia could be sentenced to anywhere from five to 99 years to life. Had this been his first felony offense he could have faced a range of between 2 and 20 years. Pawgan said, “this shows the jury believes he was defending himself and that this was an accident that simply went too far. Greg had no intention to kill.”