NORWALK — A man who had his murder conviction overturned for the 2007 killing of a security guard outside a bar in Whittier pleaded no contest Friday to voluntary manslaughter, authorities said.
Jose Javier Nunez, 28, of South Gate was ordered back to Norwalk Superior Court on June 13, when he is expected to be sentenced to 31 years in prison for the Feb. 9, 2007, shooting death of 28-year-old Reyes Armando Garcia of Whittier.
Nunez fatally shot Garcia as the security guard was involved in a fight with one of Nunez’s friends outside the Ocean Sports Bar on Telegraph Road in unincorporated South Whittier.
After being convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison in 2008, Nunez’s conviction was overturned in 2010 by a three-judge panel from the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which found fault with the trial. Had a plea agreement not been reached, prosecutors planned to try the murder case again.
Family members, including Garcia’s ex-wife, Sacheen Garcia, and his 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, addressed Nunez in court to explain how the slaying has affected their lives.
Sacheen Garcia also read a statement written by her and Reyes Garcia’s 15-year-old son, Reyes Jr. The couple also has a 10-year-old daughter together, Marissa.
“I told him who he took away from my children; who he was,” Sacheen Garcia said.
“Reyes was their father. He was their everything,” she said in her courthouse statement. “He had a smile of gold as my son does. He was kind, he was polite and respectful. He had so many friends. Everywhere he went, someone knew and loved him. He was the type of guy who would give you the shirt of his back if you needed it.”
Sacheen Garcia said the family had mixed feelings about the plea agreement. While she said she believed a murder conviction was justified, she was pleased with the lengthy prison sentence and glad to spare the family the stress of a second trial.
“To have to go through a second trial would have just kind of opened the wound again,” Sacheen Garcia said.
Nunez’s current defense attorney, Simon Aval, said he had been working with Deputy District Attorney Bobby Chen, who is now prosecuting the case, to negotiate a plea agreement.
“This is one of those sad situations where we just wish we could go back in time and avoid the incident happening,” Simon said.
Chen said he believed justice had been served Friday.
“Given the complexities of the case, I think it was the best result that could have occurred,” the prosecutor said.
The legal process the past five years has been very difficult on the family, especially the children, Sacheen Garcia said.
“It’s kind of hard to explain to kids how the justice system works,” she said.
Prior to the fatal shooting, Nunez and four friends were turned away from the Ocean Sports Bar for not meeting the dress code, investigators said. The group then began drinking in a nearby parking lot.
Reyes Garcia and the other guards who worked at the bar told them to leave.
Nunez’s friend, Jesus Nava, threw a punch at Reyes Garcia, starting a fight, officials said. The security guard got the upper hand in the fight, prompting Nunez to pull a handgun and fire four times, striking Reyes Garcia with at least three of the rounds.
Nunez’s conviction was overturned in 2010 after the panel of judges reviewing his case heard arguments from Nunez’s then-defense attorney, Vivien McGuire, that the verdict was not supported by evidence and that the court erred in not giving the jury instructions on self-defense.
But now, Sacheen Garcia said her focus is now on forgiveness.
“I could stand up here and blame you, Jose, for every painful second, every painful minute, every painful hour of every painful day, but I won’t,” she told Nunez in court. “I choose forgiveness this day for you, Jose, because my lord and savior Jesus Christ hung from a cross and looked down at the bloodthirsty evilness of this world and said, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’ I will raise my children in God’s love and teach them that forgiveness is of God and forgiveness will set them free from all the evil of this world.”
PHOTO courtesy of the Garcia family