FAIRFIELD — Two men who murdered Fairfield City Councilman Matt Garcia in 2008 lost their appeals trying to overturn their convictions Friday in the Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
Henry D. Williams and Gene A. Combs were trying to track down a drug dealer in Cordelia who had taken $50 from Combs on Labor Day but then stiffed him on the promised methamphetamine.
As they drove from the dealer’s Silverado Drive home that night, Garcia drove past them on his way to visit a friend who lived down the street from the dealer. Williams and Combs mistook Garcia for the dealer. Williams got out of their car and fired several shots at him. Garcia was struck once in the head and later died.
Combs went to Fairfield police a week and a half later telling them, “I know who shot the councilman. I was with that person who did it.” He went on to say he was angry about being ripped off by the dealer and that he called the dealer after the shooting and told him, “Those bullets down the street . . . were meant for you.”
Williams was arrested a few day later in Las Vegas, where he had been hiding out pretending to be a displaced hurricane victim from Houston named Shiferaw Kollasie.
Combs and Williams were found guilty in separate jury trials in 2010. Williams was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. Combs got 15 years to life in prison for his role as an aider and abettor.
Both Williams and Combs claimed they deserved new trials because Judge Rob Bowers had not granted them a change of venue to move their trials out of Solano County because of pretrial publicity.
“There is no requirement that jurors be totally ignorant of the facts of a case, as long as they can lay aside their impressions and render an impartial verdict,” the justices stated in both appellate rulings.
Justices went on to say they believed Bowers had made the appropriate rulings during Williams’ trial and that if he made minor mistakes they did not merit reversing the jury’s verdicts.
“Given the overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt, it is not reasonably probable the jury would have returned a verdict more favorable to defendant . . . ,” the ruling in Williams’ appeal stated.
The justices pointed to Williams’ admission to a friend about being the gunman and his giving a neighbor a gun the night of the shooting, saying he had to “unload his clip” on someone and then later telling the neighbor to get rid of the gun as two of several facts making for a strong prosecution case.
Justices rejected Combs’ claim that he was ignorant to the possibility of violence on the night of the shooting.
“Defendant knew Williams owned a gun and had a propensity to use it prior to calling him to get his help in getting money or drugs from (his dealer).”
Both Williams and Combs will automatically have their cases forwarded to the California Supreme Court by December to see if that court will seek review of the lower courts’ rulings.
Garcia, 22, was one of the youngest elected officials in the state. Elected to office in 2007 at 21, he was the youngest councilman in Fairfield history.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.