The sister of an accused killer was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison for posting her brother’s jail writings about a murder on Facebook that led to death of a witness in the slaying.
Sylvia Castro Garcia told Judge Alvin Harrell III that she was truly sorry and that it was a big mistake on her part to help her brother.
But Harrell and prosecutor Gabriel Brickey said it was more than a mistake. They said Garcia’s actions jeopardized the life of a witness in her brother’s murder case and cost another witness her life.
“This was no mistake. You made a conscious decision to do what you did,” Harrell told the defendant. “It was cold and calculated and placed individuals in danger.”
Garcia, 44 and a single mom with three children in San Joaquin, had a steady job at the Internal Revenue Service in Fresno before she pleaded no contest in December last year to a felony charge of conspiring with her brother, Juan Castro Ortiz, to dissuade a witness from testifying against him in his pending murder trial.
In an interview from jail before her plea, Garcia admitted to putting her brother’s writings on his Facebook pages and Twitter account that she created for him. But she said her only crime was believing in her brother’s innocence.
“I’m in here because the system is corrupt and there’s a cover-up going on,” she said from the inmates’ side of the visitors room inside the Fresno County Jail. “The Sheriff’s Office has done a lousy job of investigating my brother’s case.”
Ortiz, 39, was arrested May 30, 2015, after two witnesses told sheriff’s detectives that they saw him shoot Jose DeJesus Fuentes-Martinez, 52, along a canal bank west of Firebaugh.
On Wednesday, Brickey told Harrell that the information Garcia posted on Facebook put one witness’s life in jeopardy and led to the killing of the other witness, Joanna Solorio Maya, who was discovered hacked to death July 13, 2016, outside an apartment complex in Mendota. Her murder remains unsolved.
In a 13-month period, Brickey said, Garcia received a trove of letters from her brother and posted them without being coerced. The letters instructed Ortiz’s associates “to create alibis for him, threaten witnesses and eliminate one witness,” Brickey said.
Garcia told the judge, “I am truly sorry for what I did. I regret what I did. I pray for forgiveness.”
But when she said she made a mistake, the judge cut her off, saying a mistake is when someone puts three eggs into a cake when the recipe calls for two eggs.
In announcing the sentence, Harrell said Garcia’s crime included “planning, sophistication and professionalism.”
The judge also took offense to a statement Garcia allegedly told detective Jose Diaz: “You know what happens when people open their mouths like that ... nobody can snitch ... (because) snitches gets stitches and end up in ditches.”
Said Harrell, “This type of behavior can not, and will not, be allowed.”
If convicted at trial, Garcia would have faced about four years in prison. Harrell gave her the lesser sentence because she voluntarily admitted wrongdoing at an early stage and her only other conviction was for drunken driving.
In her jailhouse interview, Garcia denied having anything to do with Maya’s death.
After Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, Garcia’s relatives said the sentence was unfair because Garcia and her brother are both innocent.
“The bottom line is that detective Diaz, the witness and the DA made false statements against my daughter to shut her up and put her away,” said Rosalia Alarcon, the defendant’s mother.
“Our investigation found that Diaz has a conflict of interest in investigating my son, Juan Ortiz, so they went after my daughter,” said Alarcon, who said her daughter felt pressured to plead no contest because if she lost at trial she would have faced more prison time.
“I’m not done fighting for their innocence,” Alarcon said.