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Jury Begins Deliberating Slaying Case : Must Decide Whether Death Was Murder or Manslaughter

Times Staff Writer

“A powder keg waiting to explode.” That’s how Gerald Lee Bishop Sr. remembers his son’s volatile, on-again, off-again relationship with longtime girlfriend Marina Garcia of Huntington Beach.

The relationship turned deadly on June 3, 1988, according to prosecutors, when the 22-year-old Gerald Bishop of Westminster strangled and drowned Garcia, then buried her body in the desert near Victorville and went back later to dig a deeper hole.

Now, it is up to a jury to decide what was in Bishop’s mind at the time of the killing. Jurors began their deliberations in the case in Orange County Superior Court on Thursday after attorneys presented their closing arguments.

Jurors will have to determine whether Bishop killed his longtime girlfriend in a fit of rage over her desire to end the relationship and thus, as his attorney says, should be convicted of manslaughter; or whether, as prosecutors maintain, Bishop acted deliberately to commit an act of murder.

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The distinction could mean the difference between Bishop spending the rest of his life in prison--the upper term if he is convicted of first-degree murder--or serving an 11-year maximum prison sentence for manslaughter.

“There was clearly premeditation in this killing, and we want to see him held accountable for it,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard F. Toohey, the prosecutor in the case, insisted in an interview.

That was the line of argument that Toohey stressed Thursday morning as he presented his closing argument in a Santa Ana courtroom.

“There was absolutely nothing sudden” about the killing, Toohey told jurors. “There’s no question that this was an intentional act.”

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And the evidence of that, he said, is “overwhelming.”

The day before Bishop strangled and drowned the 23-year-old Garcia in the bathtub of her Huntington Beach home, the prosecutor said, Bishop had indicated to a friend his plans to kill his estranged girlfriend.

And once the act was done, Toohey said, Bishop tried to cover it up by cleaning up her residence, then taking the body out to the desert outside Victorville and burying it.

He later returned with his brother to dig a deeper hole, fearful that the body might be vulnerable to coyotes or discovered by passers-by, the prosecutor said. And he then tried to get rid of Garcia’s car by giving it to a hitchhiker who apparently did not know how to drive and got in an accident near Long Beach.

Once arrested, Bishop told police that he did not know Garcia’s whereabouts.

That version of the events surrounding the killing remains essentially unchallenged by defense attorney David Biggs, who declined to have Bishop take the stand to testify in his own defense during a trial that began last week.

‘Heat of Passion’

Biggs, seeking a manslaughter conviction for his client, told the jury that Bishop killed Garcia in “the heat of passion” and that her death was the result of “an emotionally straining relationship” which erupted into a sudden, vicious quarrel between the pair.

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Bishop, who has graduated from high school but had learning difficulties, had no intention of killing Garcia that day, his attorney argued.

Gerald Bishop Sr. does not believe his son is a murderer, either.

“It was just an extremely volatile relationship--two kids chasing each other and fighting for the better part of 5 years,” the elder Bishop said in an interview.

“Somebody was going to get seriously hurt, and it just happens that she was the one. I think he was caught up in a set of circumstances that allowed this to happen--but not deliberately,” Bishop said.

“And the irony of the whole thing is that he still loves her. He tells me that all the time.”


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