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Two judges on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Texas ruled that a man who shot his girlfriend twice, hitting her in the thigh and breast, didn't hurt her enough for his conviction by a jury on first degree aggravated assault charges to stand.
Vital Garcia, now 52, was arrested on May 25, 2016 in Harris County, Texas after an altercation in the apartment that he, at age 47, shared with his then-girlfriend, who was 20 years old. (The girlfriend is not identified in court papers and Oxygen.com is not identifying her in keeping with its policy of not identifying victims of domestic violence).
According to the facts that came out at trial, Garcia and his girlfriend were sharing the second consecutive apartment in their relationship of less than a year at the time of the altercation, and Garcia had recently become verbally and physically abusive to the woman. She told the court that he carried a .40 caliber handgun with him at all times and threatened to kill her if she was unfaithful.
(If the former girlfriend's statements were accurate and Garcia had carried a gun with him outside of the home, that would have been a violation of Texas law. Garcia had been convicted of a second degree felony in 2008 and served two years in prison, and while federal law does prohibit all people with felony records from owning firearms, Texas law allows formerly incarcerated individuals to own firearms starting five years after their release as long as they don't carry them outside of their homes. Garcia was not convicted of that offense.)
On the day in question, Garcia went to work and his girlfriend called "Myrick," a man she referred to as her "weed guy" but whom she had also previously dated. She and Myrick were still smoking marijuana together when Garcia came home, and he went to the bathroom where the woman heard a gun being cocked. When Garcia exited the bathroom, she ran to the kitchen to escape, but Garcia shot at her, hitting her in the right thigh.
Garcia then shot at Myrick, who threw himself out a balcony window, then trapped the woman in the kitchen and shot her through the top of her right breast.
The woman attempted to drive herself to the hospital, while Garcia apparently pursued Myrick; she heard additional shots and Myrick was reportedly carried from the scene by EMS because he was bleeding from multiple wounds. (Garcia has not apparently been convicted of any crime related to Myrick.)
Garcia's victim found that, due to her gunshot wounds, she was not able to drive herself to the hospital, so when she saw police officers a block from her apartment complex, she stopped and asked them for help. She was taken to the hospital where doctors determined that one bullet passed through the soft tissue of her breast from top to bottom, and the other passed through the soft tissue of her thigh from top to side without hitting major blood vessels, organs or bones. The entrance and exit wounds left by the bullets were cleaned and closed with staples and she was discharged.
Garcia claimed, upon returning to the scene, that his girlfriend and Myrick had attempted to rob him and he was defending his property, but police arrested him.
At trial, a jury convicted Garcia of first degree aggravated assault on a family member resulting in serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
He appealed his conviction and sentence, and the appeals court ruled on Tuesday that, in fact, insufficient evidence was provided at trial to prove that the injuries Garcia inflicted on his girlfriend when he shot her twice were "serious." They remanded the case to the trial courts with an instruction "to reform the judgment to reflect a conviction for the offense of second degree aggravated assault" and to conduct a new sentencing hearing for Garcia.
In part, the appeals court relied on a Texas ruling from 1985, Williams v. Texas, which established that, under Texas law, the mere act of using what the state defines as a deadly weapon (like a gun) to hurt someone did not inherently constitute an aggravated assault in the first degree if the state did not prove that the actual injuries inflicted on the victim "created a substantial risk of death, or caused death, a serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the functions of any bodily member or organ." (In that case, the victim was shot in the back, buttocks and thigh. His refusal to be taken to the hospital until his wife was accounted for was, in part, used to show that his injuries were not "serious.")
Relying on the Williams precedent, the appeals court found that, despite evidence presented showing that the victim experienced blood loss, scarring and pain as a result of her shooting, no evidence was presented to quantify that blood loss, pain or scarring by either the victim or her doctors, and no evidence was presented about the loss of function to her leg or breast (such as an inability to walk properly or breast feed). They further ruled that it wasn't proven that she would have died from her injuries had she failed to find police officers when she determined she could not make it to the hospital on her own. Failing to present such evidence, the court said, meant that there was no apparently basis for the jury to conclude that Garcia's victim's large gunshots wounds to her breast and thigh caused "serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ."
It is unclear when Garcia's new sentencing hearing will be held.
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