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Plea staved off death sentence in grisly 2015 hotel death
Harmon Lavender, victim of the January 2015 slaying at SunSuites Hotel in Gainesville.

Editor’s note: This story includes graphic imagery.

More than a week after the Jan. 7, 2015, death of Harmon Lavender, his roommate Jose Antonio Garcia-Flores recalled a fight before he “blacked out.”

“I guess I just lost my mind,” Garcia-Flores told investigators.

Garcia-Flores pleaded guilty on March 10, 2015, of slaying and then dismembering his roommate in a SunSuites hotel bathroom before leaving the state.

Assistant District Attorney Kelley Robertson said “in exchange for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on (malice murder), the State has agreed not to seek the death penalty,” according to court records.

The Times obtained investigative files regarding the incident from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Attempts to reach Gainesville Police investigators to discuss the case were unsuccessful.

Elizabeth Lavender, the victim’s mother, recalled the conversation about sentencing and the possibility of capital punishment.

“It’s not going to solve a problem,” she said. “I think that maybe if the person has time to think about what they’ve done, they might be better off.”

Garcia-Flores was sentenced to life without parole in prison and is now serving in a Georgia correctional facility.

Elizabeth Lavender remembered her son as a gentle and kind independent person who was always motivated to work.

“Most people thought he had great potential,” she said.

Though Harmon Lavender had been in trouble with the law before, his mother said that he “seemed to have been trying to get on the right path.”

According to interview records from the GBI, Garcia-Flores told investigators that Lavender made a sexual advance toward him that was unwanted.

“I wasn’t gonna let that happen,” he said in the interview file.

Garcia-Flores then claims that the two fought and grabbed for a knife before Garcia-Flores “admitted to stabbing Lavender in the neck,” according to the interview file.

GBI Special Agent Larry Rudeseal testified at Garcia-Flores’ plea and sentencing hearing that investigators believed Garcia-Flores intended to transport body parts from the scene by the fact that “both of Mr. Lavender’s lower leg bones were located within a red suitcase contained in the hotel room.”

Internal organs were found in a plastic bag found in a bathroom trash can, and fingers had been removed, Rudeseal said.

“This is typically something, in my experience, is done when you wish to make it difficult to identify the body,” Rudeseal said

In his interview with police, Garcia-Flores denied any intention to discard parts of the body.

He recalled walking to Interstate 985 before hitchhiking to Cornelia and spending the night a church cold shelter, according to the investigative file.

“While at that church and shelter, Mr. Flores was able to convince individuals there that he had actually become disoriented while traveling from the state of New York to Georgia, and members of the church purchased him a Greyhound bus ticket to travel to New York,” Rudeseal said.

Garcia-Flores was found in New York and returned to Gainesville for questioning.

Toward the end of the interview, Garcia-Flores asked the investigators if he could write an apology letter to the church.

Elizabeth Lavender said she has learned to accept what life brings you and “deal with it in the best way that you can.”

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