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Year in review: Cold cases, gang crime top news

Mountain View residents gained some closure this year after two cold cases were resolved, the driver who hit and killed a well-known resident was sentenced to a year in jail, and three gang members were sent to prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

The crime beat also offered some truth-is-stranger-than-fiction levity, with the case of the "blind date robbers" -- three teens who duped several men into meeting up for some kinky fun, only to rob them of hefty sums of cash.

Cold cases

Daniel Garcia of Fresno was sentenced to 14 years and four months in prison after he confessed to killing Saba Girmai in Mountain View in January 1985.

Garcia, who lived in the area at the time, was implicated in the long-cold case with the help of DNA evidence developed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Crime Laboratory. The genetic profile was linked to Garcia, a repeat offender who has been in and out of jail for decades. After initially denying his involvement, Garcia admitted he had strangled Girmai, 21, and threw her body in a large garbage can behind the Bailey Park Plaza shopping center at 570 N. Shoreline Blvd. Her body was found on Jan. 18, 1985.

The case remained cold until 2011, when investigators from the county D.A.'s office began seriously looking into the case again. They called Garcia in for extensive interviews. He was arrested and charged with murder Jan. 4, 2013, and sentenced in September.

Another cold case was resolved this year after a jury convicted 26-year-old Giovanni Duarte on Nov. 4 for shooting and killing Alejandro "Alex" Fernandez in September 2004.

With evidence gathered by local police and the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force (which helps local municipalities combat gang violence), prosecutors convinced the jury that Duarte and a friend, 25-year-old Anthony Figueroa, went out the night of the shooting specifically looking for a rival gang member to confront. Duarte and Figueroa -- both members of a Norteno-affiliated Mountain View gang -- encountered Fernandez, then a 17-year-old Los Altos High School student and self-identified member of the Sureno-affiliated gang, the Nortenos' main rival.

Figueroa, 25, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for driving the car. Duarte could face up to 40 years in prison. His sentencing is expected to take place early next year.

Sexual assault

Three gang members pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl at Castro Park last November.

Carlos Sarceno and Jose Pinto -- both 17 at the time of the attack -- were arrested and charged as adults in the case, which Clarissa Hamilton, the prosecuting deputy district attorney, called "particularly heinous." Pinto's older brother, Mario, was also arrested for his role in the assault.

According to the police report, the three men and the girl all knew each other. They were all drinking the night of the attack in November 2012. The victim became drunk and all three of the attackers forced themselves upon her, continuing even after she made cries for help. All three men were members of a Sureno-affiliated street gang.

Passers-by found found the girl, drunk and alone, in the park at about 9:30 that night.

The two Pinto brothers were sentenced to eight years in state prison. Sarceno was sentenced to five years in state prison.

Pumar found guilty

The family of William Ware -- a well-known local man who was hit and killed by a speeding motorist last summer -- expressed relief after a jury found Matthew Pumar guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

Pumar, who struck Ware on the morning of June 21, 2012, maintained that he had not been driving recklessly before losing control of his gray Audi A4, which jumped a curb and killed Ware, who was waiting for a bus on the 1800 block of California Street.

Jurors were convinced by Deputy District Attorney Duffy Magilligan, who argued that Pumar had been driving well over the posted speed limit on California Street, before he tried to squeeze through a yellow light at Escuela Avenue. Testimony from witnesses, traffic experts and police suggested that Pumar entered the intersection at least one second after the light had turned red, swerved to avoid an oncoming truck completing a legal left turn, and hit Ware while traveling between 46 mph and 62 mph.

That's the speed he was estimated to have been going after his Audi jumped the curb, after two wheels were ripped from the vehicle, and after the car plowed through a street sign. The posted speed limit on that particular stretch of California Street is 35 mph.

Pumar, who looked stunned when he was convicted, was sentenced to one year in county jail and three years' probation. Ware's brother, Jim, said he was pleased with the ruling, as it gave him some closure. He said he did not harbor any ill will toward Pumar.

"It's incredibly sad for both families," Ware said outside the courthouse on Sept. 12, the day Pumar was convicted. "We got justice for Bill; we're not looking to get revenge for Bill."

'Blind date robbers'

Two men were robbed of $2,000 and a third was taken for $1,500 after they each were lured to the 600 block of Tyrella Avenue, believing they would meet a date there, spread the cash out on top of a bed and have sex on top of that money -- thus fulfilling the fantasy of their "date."

There was just one problem: There wasn't a woman waiting for them. Instead, the victims were met by two men -- one carrying a knife, the other carrying a gun -- who demanded money, then ran off into the night.

It all occurred in a little more than a week's time. The first victim was rolled for his cash on May 28, the second on May 29, and the third on June 5.

A fourth man told police that he planned to meet a very similar sounding "date" but got spooked at the last minute and decided to leave, with his money. None of the victims was hurt.

Police eventually nabbed three suspects -- Nazario Cruz, 19, of Mountain View; Jose Urias, 19, from East Palo Alto, and an unnamed 17-year-old girl.

All of the hookups were set up using the dating service Badoo. The alleged blind date robbers' tactics weren't exactly smooth, according to a police spokesman, who said police were able to use the communications sent between the robbers and their victims to trace their respective locations.

The Voice's story gained national attention when the Gawker Media-owned blog Gizmodo, covered the incident.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steven A.
a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 30, 2013 at 9:28 pm

"a repeat offender who has been in and out of jail for decades"

Let me get this straight, a repeat offender who's been in and out of jail for decades ("extensive rap sheet"), strangles a woman, leaves her body in a dumpster, and all he gets is 14 years? So he'll be out in what, 10 years?

He murdered her because she took one of his beers. Why would he be released ever?


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