The call came into Herbert Tracy White’s cellphone after midnight.
White, a former cocaine addict turned Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, had a soft spot for people in need, so he hopped out of bed, put on some clothes and his Lakers cap and said goodbye to his wife, telling her some people he had met needed help.
She was used to late-night phone calls from people asking her husband for favors.
Early on Nov. 28, 2010, White picked up Edward and Melissa Hope Garcia, whom he met days earlier at a Chase bank in Hollywood, and suggested that they call him if they were ever serious about getting sober. He drove them to skid row and paid to check them into the Continental Hotel, Room 66.
“What proceeded that night,” a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday, “was truly dark and sadistic.”
When a maid came to clean the room the next day, she found a backpack and the bed stripped of sheets. She asked her manager to take a look.
Inside, he found White’s severed arms still bound by duct tape. Under the bed was White’s torso covered in scratches and small punctures. Positioned in the center of the bed was the Lakers hat — “like a tombstone,” Deputy Dist. Atty. John McKinney said.
During opening statements Wednesday in the murder trial of Edward Garcia, McKinney told jurors that the couple killed White, 49, as part of a “long-held fantasy of dismembering” a body in what he called a “ritualistic killing.”
“Blood-shedding and bloodletting was part of the motivation for this crime,” he said, saying that White’s body was almost completely drained of blood.
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,” he told them, before turning to Melissa and adding, “I couldn’t stop thinking of you.”
He told a hotel security guard that Melissa, now 30, 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. 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 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.
In court Wednesday, Edward, 41, stared straight ahead through his black-rimmed glasses. When McKinney, the prosecutor, described details of the dismemberment, Edward swallowed several times.
After a “brief struggle” in the hotel, White was incapacitated, the prosecutor said without elaborating. The couple duct-taped his wrists, dragged him onto the bed and began making “non-fatal” cuts on his face while White was still alive. There were punctures and scratches on his chest and two fatal stab wounds to his neck, which hit the jugular vein.
The prosecutor said Edward Garcia carved up White’s body with a 31/2 -inch blade. He used great precision — not quite like a surgeon, the prosecutor told jurors, but impressive nonetheless. Garcia skinned a piece of leg muscle from the bone “like a filet,” McKinney said.
The hotel room held more clues.
Investigators found a syringe, bags with meth residue and a box of Hot Tamales candy. They also found two pairs of men’s boxers and a pair of women’s underwear, all soaked in blood.
As the prosecutor described the bloody scene, White’s mother, Elizabeth White Peterson, sat with her arms crossed over her chest. Her brow was frozen into a furrow.
“I could feel what my son felt that night,” she said outside of the courtroom. “Horrendous.”
Memories of him raced through her mind, she said.
She thought about his love for basketball. She reminisced about how she expected him to care for her when she got older and about how he went out of his way to make everyone feel like they belonged. Her husband wasn’t White’s father, but her son always called him “Dad” and bought him gifts on Father’s Day.
“I miss him every day,” she said, shaking her head. “Every day.”