Conviction upheld by state court

With one dissent, the murder conviction and death sentence of Michael J. Garcia in a horrific 2006 West Baton Rouge Parish incident was upheld Friday by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Garcia, 33, was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2008 for first-degree murder of another homeless man, Matthew Millican, in a wooded area near the south end of La. 415, according to court records.

Danil Lee Garcia, Michael Garcia’s 41-year-old brother, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

A third defendant, 28-year-old James Edward “Fat Boy” Nelson II, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, three counts of forcible rape, second-degree kidnapping and armed robbery. Nelson testified against Michael Garcia and was sentenced to a prison term of 60 years.

Millican’s companion, Megan Teresi, testified at trial that the three defendants beat and hog-tied Millican before making him watch them rape her, sodomize her and force her to perform oral sex on them.

Teresi testified that Michael Garcia and Nelson then led Millican into the woods and returned without him.

Nelson testified that Michael Garcia got behind Millican, pulled a knife, reached over the man’s right shoulder, and plunged the blade into his chest.

Teresi will never testify again, except by recording or transcript. In April 2009, she was found dead in Portland, Ore. Her cause of death is not known.

Appeals attorneys for Michael Garcia argued for a new trial on grounds that all three defendants were represented from 2006 through 2008 by lawyers who either were on the staff of the 18th Judicial District Indigent Defender’s Office or who were contracted by that office.

Garcia’s appeals attorneys said that situation posed a conflict of interest that threatened Garcia’s right to independent counsel.

Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll, writing for the Supreme Court majority, said Friday: “We find no legal error in the District Court’s conclusion … the attorneys in this matter were independent contractors.

“We cannot say the death sentence in this case is disproportionate.” She said “the defendant’s conviction and death sentence are affirmed.”

Justice John L. Weimer dissented, however.

“As odious as the crime here was to society, a court must nevertheless be resolute in ensuring the rules of engagement related to conflicted counsel are observed,” Weimer said.

“Attorneys associated with the same Indigent Defense Board were set to contrary tasks: One group attempted to spare (Michael Garcia’s) life; another group secured a deal with the state for Nelson to testify in aid of the state’s effort to put (Michael Garcia) to death.”

“Given the irrevocability of the penalty of death, this matter should be remanded for a new trial,” Weimer argued.