A Dundalk man was found guilty by a Baltimore jury yesterday of two counts of first-degree murder for killing two prostitutes and could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
John Patrick Garcia, who was portrayed as a serial killer by prosecutors, was convicted of strangling 33-year-old Melody Brock in April 2002 and 18-year- old Danielle Fell a month later and dumping their naked bodies on city streets.
Garcia stood motionless, staring at the jury foreman as he read the verdicts. Garcia's family ran from the courtroom in tears. Fell's mother cried silently into a tissue she held over her mouth.
"He can never hurt anyone again. Just the way he did [Fell], it's just awful," said Carol Brunel, Fell's aunt, who attended the trial with Fell's mother, Joanne Fell. "We're very happy with the verdict. We know it won't bring her back, but at least he is gone."
The trial lasted three days, and the jury took four hours over two days to reach the verdicts. Jurors could have returned verdicts of second-degree murder, which carry a lighter penalty, or acquitted Garcia.
Circuit Judge John M. Glynn will sentence Garcia on June 15.
Garcia has also been indicted in the kidnapping and rape of two other women and is accused of trying to kill one of them. He is expected to stand trial this year on those charges.
Just before the murder trial started Tuesday, Garcia, 36, rejected a deal to plead guilty to the murders in exchange for a 50-year sentence.
Prosecutors presented a circumstantial case against Garcia, linking a tire track from the minivan he was driving, a boot print, a baseball, bite marks and DNA to the victims. Most of the evidence prosecutors presented linked Garcia to Brock.
There was less evidence in Fell's case. But because of the similarities in the way the women lived and died - both were drug-addicted prostitutes in South Baltimore whose breasts had bite marks matching Garcia's teeth and whose bodies were left in clear view on city streets - it was logical that the same man killed both, prosecutors argued.
"I think this jury has done a just job and came to the only conclusion logical in this case," said Assistant State's Attorney Joanne Stanton. "I thought the only question for the jury would be first- or second-degree murder. In my mind, I knew this was first-degree murder."
Some jurors said they believed almost from the start of their deliberations that Garcia was guilty but needed to decide whether the murders were premeditated, which is a requirement for a first-degree murder verdict.
Garcia's attorney, Warren A. Brown, said he believes the jury convicted Garcia without sufficient evidence. Brown said prosecutors painted his client as a serial murderer and made it difficult for the jury to consider acquittal.
"The jury looked at him like he was indiscriminately killing women, which creates more fear and hysteria," Brown said. "I tried to get them to look at him as any person accused of killing two people, and not this serial murderer and rapist just running around. And I don't think they could get over it."
Garcia took the stand Thursday as the only defense witness and told the jury that he and another man used crack cocaine, drank alcohol and had oral sex with both women just before each was found dead. He claimed the other man, whom he called "Uncle Paul," killed the women.
Garcia didn't mention the other man until just before his trial started this week - nearly two years after he was arrested on an unrelated rape charge and charged with the murders of Brock and Fell.
"What he said was just stupid," one juror, who did not want to be identified, said of Garcia's testimony. "His story just didn't make sense."
Brown said he will seek a new trial for Garcia because Assistant State's Attorney Larry Doan, during his closing argument Thursday, called Garcia names.
Doan stood behind Garcia, pointed at him and called him a weasel. Brown objected. Doan then compared Garcia to a rat backed into a corner, moving to a corner of the courtroom for emphasis.
"There is case law against that sort of name calling, and it should be able to get us a new trial," Brown said.
The state's attorney's office declined to comment.