MANTI—Saying the brutality of Julio Garza’s murder of his cellmate “shocks the conscience of this court,” Judge Wallace Lee last week sentenced Garza to life in prison without parole.
The murder happened on Aug. 25, 2016 in the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) after Garza learned his new cellmate, Carlos Hernandez, was in prison for a sex crime.
Living with a sex offender was unacceptable to the gang Garza affiliated within the prison. Yet Garza was unable to convince Hernandez to push a button and request transfer to a different cell. During the trial, Garza indicated Hernandez’s refusal to request different housing, and his fear of reprisals from his gang, was his motivation for killing Hernandez.
Garza, who is now housed at the Utah State Prison in Draper, was found guilty by a Sanpete County jury following a four-day trial that ended on March 4.
The jury heard graphic testimony recounting the beating Garza committed, saw more than 7 minutes of videotape that captured Garza’s actions and viewed pictures of the bloody aftermath.
A medical examiner testified that Garza’s beating of Hernandez was so severe it was comparable to a car tire running over the victim’s head.
During the sentencing hearing, Garza’s mother and two sisters tried to convince the court that he deserved leniency because of the conditions he suffered while growing up.
A behavioral psychologist arranged by the defense told Judge Lee that conditions the man experienced in childhood and as a gang member should mitigate against his receiving the maximum sentence.
Garza himself told the judge that when he beat Hernandez, he had no intent to kill him.
But Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels argued that the brutality of the beating went far beyond a simple assault and showed Garza’s intent to kill. He said that Garza’s claim that he was “negotiating” with Hernandez during the period immediately prior to the beating was a farce, and that Garza had every opportunity to lessen the brutality and the duration of it once Hernandez was incapacitated and presented no threat to Garza.
Daniels said that if nothing else, the judge should impose the maximum sentence to send a message to other prisoners that they cannot kill in prison with impunity.
Attorney Richard Gale, who represented Garza, argued for a sentence of 25 years to life, which would have given Garza an opportunity for parole.
Constance Maestas, the grandmother to two of Garza’s daughters, said that Garza is a good father and has a good heart. “Everyone deserves a chance,” Maestas said, “if not for himself but for his children,”
Almaida Yanagui, Garza’s older sister, told of how hard their childhood was. She said Garza was bullied in elementary school to the point where he was suicidal. She said she was willing to be a support system for him if he were to ever get out of prison.
Lee thanked people who spoke on behalf of Garza, and then left the bench to consider the sentence.
When he returned, he addressed Garza, saying, “I want you to know that to me your life matters very, very much.” He added that he appreciated Garza’s demeanor throughout the trial.
But he said the aggravated nature of Garza’s crime outweighed the mitigating circumstances. Those circumstances did not justify or excuse the brutality of the killing, he said. He then imposed the maximum sentence, life without parole sentence.
Daniels said the sentence is likely to send a shockwave through the prison population, both at CUCF and Draper. He said the Draper prison has not had the practice of prosecuting murders there so harshly.
“This is going to get the attention of everyone, from prison administrators to the prisoners themselves, that prison violence might mean the perpetrator will die in prison rather than eventually receiving parole,” he said.