David A. Garcia, the man accused of killing Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka in November 2003, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges Tuesday.
Garcia, 28, was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Pavelka, 26, was killed in an exchange of gunfire during a routine stop outside the Ramada Inn after just 10 months on the force. His partner, Officer Gregory Campbell, was wounded as they approached a parked SUV in which Garcia was a passenger. The officers stopped the pair because they suspected a possible drug offense.
“We are pleased the defendant has admitted responsibility for these heinous crimes,” Los Angeles County District Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement today. “We hope this resolution provides some measure of justice for the brutal murder of Officer Matthew Pavelka and the attempted murder of Officer Gregory Campbell.”
In addition to first-degree murder, Garcia also pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of methamphetamine, two counts each of possession of a machine gun and possession of an assault weapon and one count of possession of a silencer, according to Burbank police.
He also admitted to two special circumstance allegations: that the murder victim was an on-duty peace officer, and that the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding arrest.
“Today brings closure for the family, the department and the law enforcement community,” said Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse, who took the reins of the department seven years after Pavelka's death. “[Now] there is some type of finality and people can engage in the healing process.... There can be a return to normalcy. It culminated today with the guilty plea.”
The lead prosecutor on the case was slated to attend several upcoming roll calls to answer any questions from Burbank police officers, LaChasse added.
Garcia, who was 19 at the time of his arrest, had alleged officer misconduct during the arrest — a move legal experts said would complicate the trial. He was indicted on the charges in 2004.
In addition to being a death penalty case that involved other federal criminal charges, the case initially was blogged down by talks about a plea agreement. The case was continued in court more than 50 times.
Then, as prosecutors affirmed their commitment to seeking the death penalty, news hit that the FBI and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had launched probes into alleged officer misconduct and excessive use of force, further slowing the court timeline as Garcia's defense requested more time to evaluate the possible impact of the investigations on their case.
Reached by phone, Garcia's attorney, Seymour Amster, said they wanted to make sure the death penalty was taken off the table.
“We just had to fully explore these options,” Amster said.
He also thanked prosecutors and the Pavelka family for agreeing to the plea deal.
Attempts to reach Pavelka's parents on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Prosecutors announced in 2004 that they intended to seek the death penalty against Garcia, but agreed to life in prison without parole in exchange for Garcia's plea, Head Deputy William Hodgman, of the district attorney's Target Crimes Division, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office also confirmed that federal prosecutors had agreed to seek only life in prison for a 2005 indictment alleging that Garcia and members of a San Fernando Valley street gang were involved in racketeering, weapons, narcotics and other crimes.
Garcia was already in custody when federal authorities took down members of the gang as part of “Operation Silent Night.”
At the time, former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton vowed retribution against anyone responsible for Pavelka's death.
After “Operation Silent Night,” Bratton said authorities had “fulfilled that promise to the Pavelka family and to the communities that we serve.”
Prior to Pavelka's death, Burbank police had not lost one of their own in a shooting since 1920.
Staff writer Maria Hsin contributed reporting.