A 41-year-old man will spend the rest of his life in prison after shooting and killing his daughter’s ex-boyfriend outside a quinceañera in Gainesville nearly two years ago.
Valentin Garcia pleaded guilty Monday to shooting 26-year-old Santamaria Avelar three times on a June 2010 night. The plea came just before his trial had been set to start in Judge Bonnie Oliver’s Hall County courtroom.
Oliver’s sentence of life without parole may have been the first time in the county’s history in which a judge did not give a defendant entering a non-negotiated guilty plea the chance of parole, Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said.
It was the maximum sentence available for a crime Oliver called senseless.
“There are no winners today,” Oliver said. “Everybody’s a loser.”
Garcia kept his head down for most of the hearing as state attorneys called the victim’s brother and sister to the stand and read a statement from Avelar’s mother, who lives in El Salvador.
Both Garcia and Avelar had at least 10 family members in the courtroom.
According to testimony, the two played soccer together before their relationship soured in the summer of 2008 when Avelar became romantically involved with Garcia’s daughter, who was 16 or 17 at the time.
Against Garcia’s will, the relationship lasted about a year, according to the state’s attorneys.
Tension between Garcia and Avelar intensified when Garcia caught his daughter sneaking out of the house one night to meet with Avelar, assistant district attorney Jennifer Bagwell said.
The next day, according to Bagwell, Avelar’s roommate came home from work to find him on the phone in a heated conversation with Garcia.
“The defendant had told Santamaria that he was not allowed to date his daughter, and that he, in fact, was going to kill Santamaria,” Bagwell told the court.
After the encounter, Bagwell told the courtroom, Avelar bought a gun and started carrying it “out of fear of the defendant.”
The relationship between Avelar and Garcia’s daughter ended in 2009, according to the state’s attorneys. But the two men continued to have altercations.
A few months before the shooting, Garcia and Avelar drew their guns on each other at a baby shower.
The crowd quelled the argument, but Garcia went to Avelar’s house the next day while Avelar was sleeping, rang the doorbell, fired his gun in the air and screamed at Avelar, according to Bagwell.
And on June 26, when Garcia’s wife, Irma Velasquez, discovered that Avelar was in attendance at the same quinceañera on Patterson Drive, she tried to get her husband to leave the party, the assistant district attorney said.
Bagwell told the court Garcia had been drinking and fired his gun into the air before his wife and two of his children were able to grab him, put him in the car and take him home.
Once home, Bagwell said, Garcia’s wife and his then 7-year-old daughter were able to convince him to give them the gun. But later, Garcia convinced his wife to give him back the gun. The woman told investigators she only gave the gun back after she was sure it was unloaded.
Then, according to the state’s attorney, Garcia repeatedly called a friend asking him to take him back to the party.
After the friend dropped him off, the state’s attorneys said Garcia waited outside the driveway of the Patterson Drive home.
As Avelar left the party with his sister, Lucia, who testified in the sentencing hearing, Garcia shouted in Spanish at Avelar, “Are you brave?” before he shot him three times.
Before the third fatal shot, witnesses told police that Garcia told Avelar “Now, you are going to die.”
Garcia fled the scene and within eight hours sheriff’s investigators found him in a Douglasville hotel with $628.
Family members testified Monday that Avelar had been the financial provider for the family, sending money to his mother in El Salvador.
“I feel that half of my life has been taken away — half of my heart, ” Bagwell read from a victim impact statement prepared by Avelar’s mother. “My health is not as good as it was when I had all my children.
“Even though we still wait for him, he won’t come back.”
Garcia’s family, too, has been affected by the crime.
As Garcia pleaded guilty, two Hispanic women held each other, one of them, his mother, collapsed on the courtroom bench in tears.
Garcia, who wore a faded black-and-white golf shirt during his plea hearing, returned to the courtroom in the afternoon wearing an orange Hall County Jail jumpsuit as he awaited his sentence.
He kept his head lowered as his attorneys argued for a sentence that included the possibility of parole.
They said Garcia, who came to the country illegally in 1986, was a legal permanent resident and a homeowner with five children, four of whom are U.S. citizens. His attorneys said he had never been in trouble — “not even a DUI” — before he killed Avelar.
Garcia’s attorney Paul Schwartz declined comment after the hearing.
“The evidence showed that this was essentially an ambush and an execution-style murder with no real reason other than machismo of the defendant,” Darragh said.
Oliver questioned why no one tried to explain Garcia’s actions.
“I’d like to hear somebody tell me — give me an explanation — why a man that apparently went through life, relatively law abiding, all of a sudden commits a crime of this magnitude,” Oliver said. “How did you get that level of hatred in your heart? I don’t understand it. I didn’t hear anything about the victim mistreating the daughter — nothing, nothing that explains or helps me to comprehend maybe the whys.”
The decision to give Garcia life without parole came from that missing factor, Oliver said, before addressing Garcia directly.
“Mr. Garcia,” the judge said, “I wish I could have found some ray of light in this situation. But there was no ray of light.”