BARSTOW • More than eight years after he was first questioned in the disappearance of his Raytheon co-worker and intimate friend Kristine Garcia, the fate of Lawrence Rivera — charged with murder in her death — rests with a jury.

Rivera, 40, fled to England, Amsterdam, and eventually Australia before he could be arrested by authorities and was eventually extradited in 2008 after years of appeals. Garcia's body was found in open desert off of Yermo Cutoff Road on May 22, seven days after the 26-year-old disappeared.

In his closing argument at the Barstow Courthouse Monday, Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty said Rivera convinced Garcia to leave her apartment by force or threat and drove out to the desert where he killed Garcia in a struggle — and  circumstantial evidence beyond a reasonable doubt prove it.

Rivera took the stand in his own defense during the trial, saying scratches on his body noted by co-workers and investigators were caused by both a fight with a co-worker and a vicious beating at the hands of sheriff's deputies. Rivera also said a trip to Amsterdam and Australia had been in the works for some time, although the date for the trip was tentative.

Virtually all of the prosecution's witnesses gave testimony contradictory to Rivera's version of events during the time surrounding the disappearance of Garcia.

"If you believe (Rivera's) story, then there is reasonable doubt," said Daugherty. "But you would have to ignore the flyer, the fact that his vehicle was seen near the crime scene, blood in his car, stalking, his absence from work, and him running. Either (Rivera) did it or he is the unluckiest man on earth."

In previous testimony, a man said he passed a religious flyer to Rivera at Garcia's Lenwood apartment on the night of May 14, when Rivera said he was not there. Rivera also claimed he was working at Raytheon on May 15 when none of his coworkers who testified recall him being there.

"How can you tell when Rivera is lying?" said Daugherty. "When his lips are moving."

In Rivera's defense, his attorney Jim Terrell said there was "doubt everywhere" in the case. Terrell said the crime scene in the desert was not processed thoroughly, and that shoe and tire tracks at the scene should have been more carefully examined.

"Nothing at the crime scene can be traced to my client," said Terrell.

Terrell said Rivera had no animosity towards Garcia, and suggested Garcia's husband, Brandon Garcia, as a possible suspect in the slaying — even though credit card records placed him in Alabama at the time Kristine went missing. Terrell also said Kristine's apartment did not show obvious signs of a struggle, and none of the witnesses saw Rivera kill Kristine.

In his rebuttal, Daugherty said shoe and tire marks in the sand were too faint to compare to anything, and Terrell completely ignored Rivera's inconsistent testimony in his closing arguments.

"It's just like 'The Wizard of Oz,' pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," said Daugherty, waving his arms over Rivera. "(Rivera) wanted to be Garcia's boyfriend and the gig was up. He responded violently by dragging her into the desert."

If jurors find Rivera guilty, they have the option of first or second degree murder. Two possible criteria for first degree murder include premeditation or felony murder (a murder committed during the course of a felony, such as kidnapping), and Daugherty said Rivera met both.

If convicted, Rivera could face 25 years to life in prison.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or adome@desertdispatch.com