BARSTOW • Crime scene experts, law enforcement, and a man who passed out a religious flyer all took the witness stand in a day of testimony that centered on physical evidence in the trial of a Barstow man charged with murder in the death of a Lenwood woman in 2002.
Lawrence Rivera, 39, is charged in the death of Kristina Garcia, whose body was found by detectives in the desert off of Yermo Cutoff Road May 22, 2002, seven days after she went missing. Rivera fled overseas before he could be arrested and was eventually extradited from Australia in 2008 after years of appeals.
Barstow resident Phillip Zabala was first to testify, saying he passed out a flyer for a bible study to Rivera when Rivera was at Garcia's apartment on May 15, 2002 — the night before her disappearance when Rivera claimed he was not there.
Zabala identified Rivera in the courtroom as the man he handed the flyer to, although Zabala did not correctly identify Rivera in a six-man photo lineup in 2002.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy Rusty Carter testified that he took the flyer from Garcia's Lenwood apartment after she went missing and put it in an envelope. In his opening statements Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty said Rivera's fingerprints were on the flyer are key to the case, although testimony on those prints has yet to be offered.
Carter visited Rivera at the Fort Irwin shoppette where he worked for questioning, and said Rivera appeared uneasy during questioning.
"He was nervous, shaking, and stuttering," said Carter. "He didn't express any shock or concern."
Carter pointed out a variety of cuts, scrapes, and bruises on photos of Rivera's body taken after Garcia's disappearance, which Rivera said were caused by a tree branch.
Criminalist David Blackburn next gave testimony about large blood stains found on Garcia's clothing. The cause of Garcia's death was never definitively determined due to the state of decomposition her unburied body was in. Throughout Wednesday's testimony, Daugherty displayed graphic pictures of Garcia's body several times to witnesses and the jury.
San Bernardino County Detective Brian Swan spoke next about the discovery of Garcia's body. Not knowing where to look, Swan and a partner drove down every dirt road off of Highway 58 from Barstow until Highway 395. Finding nothing, they decided to retrace routes Rivera might take to work and found a pile of stones with drag marks nearby. Working in collaboration with a helicopter the body was found approximately 800 feet from the road lying in a wash.
Swan said interruptions in drag marks in the sand indicate a struggle took place in the desert between the road and where the body was found.
Testimony in the case is set to continue Friday morning. If convicted, Rivera could face 25 years to life in prison. Rivera's trial is expected to last through February.
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