Santa Cruz County teen sentenced to 8 years in prison for killing friend

SANTA CRUZ — The 19-year-old man who drunkenly shot and killed a friend sitting in the driver’s seat in front of him in January will face eight years’ prison time, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Ricardo Garcia 

From the backseat, Ricardo Jesus Garcia, of Watsonville shot Octavio Varela Gutierrez, 30, of Watsonville Jan. 7, while the two were driving on South Green Valley Road in Watsonville. Garcia, arrested Feb. 12, pleaded no contest — which carries the same consequences as a guilty plea — March 3 to felony involuntary manslaughter with an enhancement for use of a firearm.

Gutierrez’s loved ones, as well as those in support of Garcia, appeared in court for Wednesday’s sentencing before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar. Neither Garcia nor Gutierrez’s family gave verbal statements in court, but Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Ilia McKinney told the judge Garcia’s family was “not necessarily too happy with this resolution” and that the loss of Garcia was very difficult for them. Hearing attendees subsequently declined to comment to the Sentinel on the day’s proceedings outside the courtroom.

Alyssa Thompson, defense attorney for Garcia, read a statement from Garcia to the Santa Cruz County Probation Department, however. Garcia, she read, “said he felt terrible” for what he had done and that he decided to take a plea deal agreement offered by the District Attorney’s Office so as to avoid a trial that would “put the family through pain.”

The plea agreement dropped a second felony count against Garcia — being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm — in exchange for his acceptance of guilt.

Salazar spoke directly to Garcia before sentencing him, noting that the young man had been in juvenile court for “most of your life” and had struggled with alcohol and marijuana use and gang involvement. Salazar said it was clear Garcia did not mean to shoot his friend and would have the coming prison term to “make some positive changes.”

“Are you going to be the same person when you come out, or are you going to be a different man,” Salazar said.

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Author: Jessica York

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