The Silicon Valley Beat
Who is Daniel Garcia?
Finally, when it seems like investigators are closing in on a man who may be connected to Saba Girmai's murder nearly thirty years later, it all begins to fall apart.
In an hours-long interview with Fresno resident Daniel Garcia, detectives learn just how his DNA ends up under Saba's fingernails, and it's a perfectly plausible explanation.
Once so full of hope, now investigators think that once again, Saba's killer may have slipped free.
This is the fourth episode of our special edition podcast series, Silicon Valley Beat: Major Crimes.
[[Disclaimer: The Silicon Valley Beat, Major Crimes, is a podcast that deep-dives into major cases investigated by the Mountain View Police Department. Because this podcast covers investigations including critical incidents and homicides, what we discuss here may contain material that is not suitable for all listeners. Names and other sensitive information may be changed to protect the identity of the innocent.]]
On last week’s episode -- a new lead brought a new hope to a decades-old cold case. But as we began to reinvestigate the case, Saba’s life in and around Mountain View continued to remain shrouded in mystery, even more than two decades later.
But with DNA evidence now tying a known criminal to the case, the question becomes -- how did Daniel Garcia know Saba Girmai?
This is the Silicon Valley Beat: Major Crimes.
Episode 4: Who is Daniel Garcia?
Katie Nelson: At the time, Garcia’s formative years were spent in a city once known as being part of “the Valley of Hearts’ Delight.” San Jose, once a bountiful farming and orchard community, began to shift into more of a concrete jungle towards the 1980s with the impetus of Silicon Valley beginning to show in companies that planted their seeds in and around the area, including Intel and IBM.
San Jose’s population in the 1980s boasted more than 620,000 people, up from less than 450,000 just a decade earlier. Today, San Jose is home to more than 1 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the country.
Fresno, Garcia’s new home, very much mirrored the growth of San Jose. Once a small farming community, Fresno has grown into a city of more than half a million people, making it the fifth most populous city in the state. San Jose is the third most populous.
Daniel Garcia was no stranger to brushes with the law. In and out of the justice system for a majority of his adult life, the arrest record for Garcia was decades old, with crimes running the gamut. In fact, his adult record begins when he was just 20 years old, living in the San Jose area.
In the span of seven years, from 1979 to 1986, Garcia was arrested five times by the San Jose Police Department. His arrests included multiple incidents where he was under the influence of a controlled substance and, at least once, he resisted arrest.
His record begins to show even more aggressive behavior after he moved to the Fresno area. He was arrested for willfully harming a child, assault with a deadly weapon, sexual battery, and driving under the influence, among other charges.
His last arrest -- in December 2012 -- was just one month before he would meet Detective Chris Kikuchi and Investigator Nate Wandruff.
Saul Jaeger: But his arrest record doesn’t make up all of who Daniel Garcia is. Like every person, there’s more to his story.
Daniel Garcia also is a father of four. He is a brother. And, he has a father who lives in Mexico, but they aren’t close. Daniel was a Bay Area native, born in San Jose, where he actually lived in the 1980s, after he left high school in Fresno. At least one former girlfriend would describe him as ‘cool.’
When speaking with investigators, Garcia noted if he had stayed in high school, he would have graduated in 1978.
Daniel Garcia is also a recovering drug addict.
After dropping out of school, Garcia worked various labor jobs, digging trenches and working on construction sites. He was exposed early to drugs -- the seventh grade, he later recalled -- starting with uppers and downers. He avoided heroin, though, because a family member had died after using the drug, he stated.
Garcia was sure of one thing, though, when it came to his preference when he was using -- his favorite drug was PCP.
NEWS SAMPLE OF rampant PCP use in the 80’s
Katie Nelson: Phencyclidine, sometimes known as angel dust, rocket fuel, killer weed, or the ‘peace pill,’ is actually an anesthetic. It sedates its users, creating a trance-like effect. Those who use PCP have described its effects as creating an ‘out of body’ experience.
When someone uses PCP, they can, among other effects, experience hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, and a person can become exceptionally violent at the peak of their high. The drug is highly addictive, and can be fatal.
According to Garcia, he used PCP for about 15 years, beginning after high school. He used PCP until just before 2000, when while high, he was involved in a serious collision that injured a woman.
While high in Fresno, for example, Garcia said he and others engaged in a water fight in the backyard of a home. Police were called at some point. When officers arrived, one of them attempted to grab Garcia, and he noted that he thought it was a friend and actually “flipped him” over.
Saul Jaeger: In another instance, Garcia experienced such intense hallucinations and paranoia during one high that he broke all of the windows at his mother’s home in Fresno, and yet another time, he removed all of his clothes.
Garcia recognized he needed help after his collision in 1999, and he stayed sober for more than 13 years, he said.
Between 1984 and 1987, Garcia lived in and around the downtown area in San Jose. Though he didn’t have a license to drive, he said, he still drove around in his sister’s purple, 1968 Chevrolet Impala. When she took the car back, Garcia remembered buying a late 1960s plum-colored Plymouth Fury, which had a loud, aftermarket exhaust.
He had that car for less than a year.
According to Garcia, one day, the car experienced mechanical issues, so he dumped it in the Pacheco Pass, and it was impounded. He never saw it again.
Garcia knew the Mountain View area, too, confiding at one point he even had an aunt that lived in the area. He knew of Moffett Field, but it had been years, perhaps, since he had been back.
Katie Nelson: During some of his time living in San Jose, Garcia noted that he lived near a 7-Eleven, in a complex on Reed Street. At the time, he lived there with his cousin and his cousin’s girlfriend. This simple statement may become very important later.
It was in that same complex that Garcia first met Saba.
Saba made quite an impression on Garcia, it seems.
In speaking with investigators, he recalled her as being ‘thin’ and ‘wild.’
When shown a picture of her nearly three decades later in 2013, Garcia didn’t hesitate in his acknowledgment that he recognized her.
“I’ve seen her,” he said, underwhelmingly.
When another picture was provided by Investigator Wandruff who, for clarification, asked if it was possible that Garcia maybe didn’t recognize Saba, or if, perhaps, he thought she was maybe a different woman.
“No,” Garcia said. “I remember that face.”
Here is Daniel Garcia talking about Saba as he knew her back in 1985.
Saul Jaeger: Just a quick warning, what you are about to hear are portions of the actual interview with Daniel Garcia and the investigators. There may be content and language not appropriate for all listeners. Discretion is advised.
Daniel Garcia: To me, she was just a happy, kooky, money-making girl. Yeah, she would come around sometimes with no shoes, no jacket, no nothing, crazy and hungry. And if you were drinking, she wanted your beer. You were getting high, she wanted to get high. That’s how she was, that was how I knew her. I mean, she wasn’t my girlfriend, she wasn’t nothing to me. She was just a trick around the complex.
She came and left, came and left. That’s how she was. She came and left. Came and left. Sometimes, she’d be gone for two weeks, three weeks, then she’d show up again.
Katie Nelson: In 1985, in fact, Garcia distinctly recalled an incident where Saba ‘scratched’ him as he was trying to eat.
Daniel Garcia: It wasn’t a fight. It wasn’t a fight. I didn’t hit her. She scratched me. End of story, you know what I mean? I didn’t fight her, physically hit her, physically do anything to her. I’m just saying, I never had any contact other than being scratched by her. Sexually, physically, or anything. Besides her slapping me and clawing me.
Saul Jaeger: According to Garcia, that was the last time he saw Saba. He moved, he said, sometime after that incident.
He said when he went upstairs after the incident occurred, he noticed he was bleeding. He had scratches on his face.
“When I went upstairs, I could see imprints from her fingers,” he noted. But initially that was as far as he provided.
The next day, Garcia said, while at work, his father inquired what happened to his face. Garcia explained that he didn’t call police about the alleged attack because, in his words, “she didn’t have anywhere to go.”
Garcia never told his cousin, with whom he lived, about the incident, nor, according to Garcia, did his cousin ever ask about the scratches on his face. However, and this is important, this was not what Garcia initially told Kikuchi and Wandruff.
In his first iteration of the story, Garcia claimed he told his cousin about the attack, and that his cousin “laughed.”
“Of course I was mad, but like I said, I wouldn’t hit a woman. I never have. She scratched me and I went inside and that was the end of it,” according to Garcia.
Daniel Garcia: Yeah, well of course I was mad, but as I said I wouldn’t hit a woman. I never have. I went inside and that was the end of it. We got into a conflict there and she scratched me on my face. And when she did that, I went into my room.
Chris Kikuchi: Why did you have a conflict?
Daniel Garcia: Huh?
Chris Kikuchi: Why did you have a conflict with her?
Daniel Garcia: Because I was eating McDonald’s and she wanted my dinner because she was hungry. ‘Share your hamburger with me.’ ‘Share this with me.’ ‘Do this with me.’ And I said, ‘You need to leave. You don’t even live here.’ And she grabbed one of my beers and I grabbed it back and she went [[makes scratching noise]]. Like a cat.
Chris Kikuchi: What did you do?
Daniel Garcia: I went inside. I didn’t want no fight with a girl.
Katie Nelson: A reasonable, and plausible, explanation as to why Garcia’s DNA was under Saba’s fingernails.
Wandruff and Kikuchi has just spent two hours in a room with a man who they thought was the killer, and now this?
Countless hours of planning, a three hour drive to Fresno, all leading up to this moment of … what, exactly?
Was it really time to give up? Was this the last lead, the last hope for this case?
Another half hour went by. Investigator Wandruff again reminded Garcia that his DNA was on Saba.
“She scratched me,” he replied matter-of-factly.
Wandruff pulled out a photo of Saba’s tombstone. Garcia looked at it, but denied he had done anything to her.
Daniel Garcia: I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.
Nate Wandruff: Didn’t do what?
Daniel Garcia: This right here. I know what that is. It’s a tombstone. I’ve been telling you. I don’t know what happened to her. I didn’t do this right here. I would never take anybody’s life.
Katie Nelson: Perhaps, this was it. Perhaps this was, in fact, the end. Perhaps, Saba’s killer had once again slipped free.
One last shot. Asking, simply, for the truth.
Nate Wandruff: How do you want to be perceived? How do you want people to look at you behind this incident?
Chris Kikuchi: Just the truth. That’s all we want.
Katie Nelson: And then … something incredible happened.
Daniel Garcia: I don’t even know if I’m going to walk out of this room right now. I got a lot to lose.
Thank you for listening to this episode of The Silicon Valley Beat: Major Crimes. For more details and for credit for the music and other source material used throughout our podcast, please visit the episode’s website at pippa.io.
Source material utilized in this podcast
Interlude/interview background music:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAyFXPDUoPQ – MorningLightMusic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjoqx7wYbVw – MorningLightMusic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OnJidcj2CU – FesliyanStudios Background Music
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVl9frUzHsE – Over Time by Audionautix
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qjh0OGDt58I – AshamaluevMusic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWQdnBjr2dU Throwback Special Report: “Angel Dust”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWitRABYVBk Gil Scott-Heron, Pieces of a Man “Angel Dust”