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Suzanne Garcia convicted of perjury

Garcia

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

Suzanne Garcia, a Durango woman suspected of lying to a grand jury that was investigating her husband’s murder, was convicted Thursday on multiple counts of perjury.

Garcia, 42, dressed in all black and high heels, looked stone-faced as the judge read 10 guilty verdicts.

Through her lawyer, Garcia declined to comment after the verdicts were read. She shook hands with the prosecutor, Reid Stewart, and complimented him on a job well-done. She apologized for taking time away from his family.

“You were impressive to watch, sir,” she said.

She remains free on $10,000 bail.

A 12-person jury deliberated about 5½ hours before reaching its guilty verdict on 10 felonies, including eight counts of perjury, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

She faces anything from probation to six years in prison on each count. Sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in 6th Judicial District Court.

The four-day trial was overseen by District Judge Jeffrey Wilson in La Plata County.

Prosecutors said Garcia intentionally misled investigators and lied to a grand jury that was investigating the death of her husband, Ted Garcia, in an effort to protect her brother, Joseph Dernoga, who was charged with and later convicted of the crime.

They also said she coached her daughter, who was 14 at the time, to lie before the grand jury.

The grand jury testimony occurred Oct. 12, 2011, in Durango.

Her Durango defense lawyers, Rae Dreves and Becky Briggs, said Suzanne Garcia didn’t knowingly make false statements. They asked jurors to consider Suzanne Garcia’s emotional state after becoming a widow and a single mother.

Dernoga pleaded guilty Sept. 6 to second-degree murder and was sentenced in October to 16 years in prison.

“Suzanne Garcia loved her brother,” Briggs said. “She didn’t suspect him. She still doesn’t suspect him.”

Deputy District Attorney Reid Stewart said the case is not about Suzanne Garcia’s difficulties after her husband’s murder. Rather, it is about her effort to mislead investigators and the grand jury that were investigating her husband’s death.

Ted Garcia was shot and killed July 23, 2010, at his home in the 1000 block of County Road 206, west of downtown Durango.

Dernoga, who lived in the basement, was late on rent and was possibly facing eviction, according to testimony.

Several details of the shooting death were revealed during the perjury trial.

Suzanne Garcia was in Baltimore caring for her father at the time of her husband’s death. She was scheduled to return July 24, 2010 – the day after Ted Garcia was killed.

She received a call from her brother the night of her husband’s death. According to testimony, Dernoga sounded frantic and demanded to talk to her. But she refused to take the phone call.

She told the grand jury she didn’t recall any such phone call. Stewart said it was unlikely Garcia would have forgotten about the phone call because it was such an unusual occurrence the night of her husband’s death.

Suzanne Garcia’s flight arrived July 24, 2010, in Albuquerque. She and her daughters tried to call Ted Garcia before driving to Durango, but he didn’t answer. As they approached Durango, Garcia received a phone call from her mother asking her to pull off on Rosemary Lane, a road just before her house.

They became anxious, and nobody wanted to put words to their deepest fears, said defense lawyer Dreves.

When they arrived, her mother and law-enforcement officials informed Suzanne Garcia of her husband’s death.

Investigators told her the next day that her brother was the only person in the house at the time of the murder, and they suspected his involvement.

But Garcia testified Wednesday she was never told that her brother was the primary suspect until his arrest in November 2011.

Investigators have no evidence Suzanne Garcia was involved in the homicide, said Tonya Golbricht, lead investigator on the case with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m happy. Justice was served,” Golbricht said of the guilty verdicts.

Ted Garcia was the manager of Francisco’s Restaurante y Cantina on Main Avenue.

His father, Francis Garcia, said he hopes Suzanne Garcia receives the maximum possible penalty at sentencing.

“You can’t go on forever making fun of the justice system and hurting families that have no fault,” he said.

Suzanne Garcia is a lifelong resident of La Plata County and a 1995 graduate of Fort Lewis College. She served as chairwoman of the La Plata County Democratic Party and was nominated in 2000 to challenge Republican Mark Larson for the 59th District in the state House, which she lost.

She has worked various jobs with Durango School District 9-R.

Stewart, the deputy district attorney, ended his cross-examination of her by drawing attention to a statement she posted on Facebook. The post, made in 2010, was in reference to an unrelated criminal case.

Garcia, a theater major in college, wrote:

“I came right home and called Alex Tejada (best lawyer in town) because we’re going all the way on this. They want to f&^k with me?! They better get ready. ... I really don’t mind courtrooms ... it’s like being on stage and I love to act.”

shane@durangoherald.com

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