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Utah man to stand trial for child kidnapping, sex charges

Published March 7, 2014 5:30 pm

After charges were filed, judge took unusual step of clearing courtroom.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Jordan • For several days after the 13-year-old Herriman girl had returned to her home, her parents didn't know what had taken place during the three-day period she was missing.

She told them, at first, that she had been "walking around" for days, her stepmother testified at a preliminary hearing Friday.

But one night, the parents sat the girl down in their living room and said they weren't leaving until she told them the truth about whom she had been with while hundreds searched for the missing teen.

The stepmother testified that they sat for four hours before the teen scribbled on a piece of paper: "Angel Garcia. At the townhouse."

Angel Vizuet Garcia was ordered to stand trial Friday on child kidnapping charges, as well as newly filed charges of child sexual assault after a judge heard testimony during a preliminary hearing for the 56-year-old Draper man.

Prior to the beginning of a Friday preliminary hearing, prosecutors filed amended information charging Garcia with 10 first-degree felony sex-related counts, including sodomy on a child, rape of a child and aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Garcia was initially charged with child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and reckless endangerment in the January 2013 episode.

As the hearing began Friday morning, 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck took the unusual step of clearing all spectators — including the media — from the courtroom prior to the girl being called to the witness stand.

Lubeck reopened the court after the now-14-year-old girl testified, whom The Salt Lake Tribune has not identified because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault.

The newly filed charges allege Garcia sexually abused the girl after she disappeared from her Herriman home the night of Jan. 8, 2013, wearing just pajamas, no shoes and no glasses.

The new charges also allege Garcia sexually abused the girl on two occasions at his home between January 2008 and January 2012, and again in February 2012.

Garcia was the father of the alleged victim's best friend, according to testimony from the girl's father, and lived in a townhome near his ex-wife's home.

The girl's disappearance sparked a community-wide search, which ended when she called her grandparents from a south valley Wal-Mart store the night of Jan. 10, 2013.

The girl initially revealed that Garcia picked her up after she had called him using a pre-paid phone that Garcia had given her, according to charges.

In the time she was gone, police looked for the girl at Garcia's home. Although she was hiding inside his home, court documents state, Garcia told investigators he had not seen the girl since July 2012.

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 — a single father of two — drove the girl to an area Wal-Mart so she could call her grandparents, according to the documents.

The allegations of sexual assault did not surface until last June during an interview with the girl by a Salt Lake County district attorney investigator, according to the amended charges filed Friday.

Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Josh Player said outside of court Friday that the charges were added Friday after unsuccessful "settlement negotiations."

The girl said during the interview that on Jan. 9 at 2 a.m., she left her home through a window and met Garcia, who was waiting in a car on the street, according to charges. They drove to Garcia's home, where they fell asleep in the same bed, according to charges.

Garcia will be in court again on March 17 for a scheduling conference.

The courtroom closure on Friday came after attorneys requested all spectators be cleared. Court officials cited a court rule that they claimed allows such a closure "on the request of either party."

The judge said after the hearing concluded that closing it was "inappropriate, but was nevertheless done," saying that according to case law, he should have had the attorneys file a written motion to close the hearing and should have allowed spectators or media to object before closing the courtroom.

jmiller@sltrib.com