Closing arguments expected in L.A. hotel dismemberment trial

Closing arguments expected in trial of couple accused of dismembering man in DTLA hotel room

Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments Thursday in the gruesome murder trial of a man accused of carrying out a "ritualistic killing" in which the victim was dismembered at a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

The case against Edward Garcia Jr. centers on the November 2010 killing of Herbert Tracy White, whose remains were found by staff in room 66 of the Continental Hotel.

White's severed arms still bound by duct tape were found in a backpack in the room. Under the bed was White’s torso covered in scratches and small punctures.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John McKinney told jurors earlier in the trial that what happened that night "was truly dark and sadistic." The prosecutor alleged that Garcia and his wife killed White, 49, as part of a “long-held fantasy of dismembering” a body in what he called a “ritualistic killing.”

The prosecutor said Garcia carved up White’s body with a 3 1/2 -inch blade and skinned a piece of leg muscle from the bone “like a filet.”

White had met Edward and Melissa Hope Garcia days before at a Chase bank in Hollywood. White, a former cocaine addict turned Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, suggested that they call him if they were ever serious about getting sober.

On the evening before his body was found, White drove the married couple to skid row and paid to check them into the Continental Hotel.

But Edward’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Haydeh Takasugi, described a more complicated scene for jurors, saying that her client had used two baggies of meth — which, she said, White brought to the hotel — at the time of the killing.

When he encountered the couple again after meeting at the bank, she said, White had offered a proposition of sorts.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you guys,” she said he told them before he turned to Melissa Garcia and added, “I couldn’t stop thinking of you.”

He told a hotel security guard that Melissa Garcia was his girlfriend and wrote a false name in a registry at the front desk, the attorney said. Sexual lubricant — the same type found at White’s house — was in the hotel room, Takasugi said.

She told the jurors that all of the dismemberment occurred after White died or near the time of death. Edward Garcia admitted to investigators that he killed White but “expressed regret,” Takasugi said.

The couple came to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania and lived out of their car until it was towed. They settled into a homeless encampment in the Hollywood Hills and after it was bulldozed, they moved to skid row. The Garcias never checked out of the Continental Hotel after arriving early that morning with White. Instead, they used a fire escape to leave the third-story room, the prosecutor said.

As investigators began to look into the couple’s past, they learned of a crime with eerie similarities.

A year and half earlier in Pennsylvania, the couple hatched a plan in which Melissa Garcia posed as a prostitute and lured a man to their apartment. When the man arrived and took off his pants, Edward “sprang out of the darkness with a knife,” the prosecutor said. The couple tied the man’s hands and shackled his feet. But after luring one of the man’s friends over and slicing his finger, “all hell broke loose,” the prosecutor said, and the men escaped.

For more news from the Los Angeles courts, follow @marisagerber and @sjceasar.

Times staff writer Jack Leonard contributed to this report.

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