The Draper man accused of kidnapping of a 13-year-old Herriman girl and hiding her in his home for two days as hundreds searched for her made his first appearance in court Wednesday.
Angel Vizuet Garcia, 55, walked into the 3rd District courtroom shackled and bound. He wore a yellow jumpsuit and stood silently as a judge rattled off the charges: child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and reckless endangerment.
These charges, a first-degree felony, second-degree felony and class A misdemeanor, respectively, could amount to life in prison.
But the man who would commit those crimes does not sound to Pimmie R. Lopez like the neighbor he has known for three years.
Lopez sat in the gallery through Garcia’s brief appearance.
The court scheduled a hearing for Feb. 12 in West Jordan and sent Garcia back to the Salt Lake County jail, where he remained in lieu of $150,000 bail.
Afterward, Lopez spoke with Garcia’s defense attorney, Mary Corporon, behind closed doors.
He later said he wanted to make sure that “what has been shown in the media is not the person we [neighbors] know.”
Garcia, a single father of two, was known throughout his close-knit community as responsible and helpful, Lopez said.
“He’s the kind of father anyone would be proud to know,” said Lopez, who noted Garcia has been a single dad since his wife died of cancer two years ago.
“These charges are clearly serious,” he said. “But I do believe that underneath it all, he was really trying to be helpful and wanted to care for this person he’d known for years, a friend of the family.”
This friend was 13-year-old Brooklyn Gittins who disappeared from her home the night of Jan. 8 wearing pajamas, no shoes and no glasses.
After a two-day, community-wide search, Gittins called her grandparents from a Wal-Mart store in South Jordan. For several days, Gittins said nothing about where she had gone.
The teen eventually revealed that Garcia picked her up after she had called him using a pre-paid phone Garcia had given her.
In the time she was gone, police looked for the blond-haired girl at Garcia’s home. Although she was hiding inside his home, court documents state, Garcia told investigators he had not seen Gittins since July.
She hid out of sight in a van as Garcia left the house to pick up his daughter from school, according to court documents.
Later that same night, Garcia drove Gittins to an area Wal-Mart so she could call her grandparents, according to the documents.