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Insanity Plea Sought in Killings

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Admitting he shot two people to death during a psychotic episode at their Upper Ojai home, a 43-year-old La Crescenta furniture merchant asked Thursday to withdraw his not-guilty plea and stick with a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Miguel Hugo Garcia “is aware that the withdrawal is an admission of guilt,” said his lawyer, James M. Farley.

But Farley said the defense wants to avoid a lengthy trial on whether Garcia is guilty of murder and focus solely on whether he was sane when he fatally shot Helen Giardini 43, and her father, Albert “Jim” Alexander, 83, at Alexander’s home May 22.

If found insane, Garcia would be committed to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison.

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To that end, Farley asked Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger to allow jurors to hear audiotapes and see videotapes of Garcia that were made by detectives several hours after the slayings.

Neither Farley nor Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Calvert has tried to block from evidence a chilling tape of a 911 call made from the house.

Moments after the slayings, the tape captured Garcia raving about God and demons, and forcing Giardini’s 3-year-old son--who had witnessed his mother’s killing--to talk by phone to the police dispatcher.

But Farley wants jurors to hear Garcia in a taped interview with detectives made several hours after the slayings, and see him on a videotape they made during a walk-through of the crime scene the following evening.

Calvert, who declined to comment, seeks to block the sheriff’s tapes, arguing that they are redundant to the 911 tapes, and that case law against hearsay evidence would forbid jurors from hearing the tapes during expert testimony by psychiatrists.

Farley said he hopes to argue that the tapes show Garcia was severely mentally ill around the time of the killings.

Cloninger is expected to rule today on whether the tapes will be allowed--and to begin jury selection.

The morning after the killings, Garcia made “tremendously bizarre statements” to detectives in a taped interview, Farley said.

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“He thought he was working for them, and he wanted to know how much he was going to get paid,” Farley said after Thursday’s hearing. “He said that God was telling him to do [the killings] and that they set him up to do this.”

During the walk-through of the crime scene videotaped by sheriff’s deputies 14 hours after the slayings, Garcia showed them what happened, Farley said.

“He shows how he put cigars out in a circle, and those cigars were his perimeter of defense where Rashid Ali [an alter ego] would be protected,” Farley said. “He spent time kneeling down and kissing the feet of the detectives.”

Garcia also tried to kiss a psychiatrist accompanying the tour, then threatened to kill detectives if they touched him, Farley said.

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In the months before the slayings, police in Malibu and Grapevine detained Garcia for “acting bizarre,” but each time let him go without having him committed for psychiatric treatment, Farley said.

“If they had,” Farley said, “none of this would have happened.”


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