Suzanne Garcia, the Durango woman convicted of lying to a grand jury investigating her husband’s death, was sentenced Monday to six years in prison.
Garcia, 43, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs to begin her sentence. Her youngest daughter, Julia, 14, burst into tears.
“I need her. I need my mommy,” she sobbed. “I don’t have anyone.”
The girl’s grandmother, Suzan Gray, who is Garcia’s mother, will have legal custody of the girl.
Garcia was convicted in December on eight counts of perjury, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
She faced up to six years in prison on each of the 10 felony counts. Colorado prisoners typically serve about 75 percent of their prison terms before becoming eligible for early release.
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 pleaded guilty to the crime.
Before sentencing, 6th Judicial District Judge Jeffrey Wilson said he understands Suzanne Garcia has had a tough few years – “Everybody’s been through hell on this,” he said – but much of the suffering was brought on by her own actions.
“You just lied,” he said. “That’s what you did to the grand jury.”
Even worse, he said, she coached her eldest daughter to lie, which led to the tampering and contributing charges.
Wilson said Garcia has been cited or arrested 20 times for minor offenses.
“Your history does not suggest you’re a good candidate for probation,” he said.
The rule of law is the organizing principle of American society, and the only way it works is if people believe the justice system is fair and see that it works, Wilson said. Without the rule of law, there would be a cycle of retribution. Taking an oath and then lying to the grand jury was an attack on the system, he said.
At the beginning of Monday’s sentencing hearing, Garcia fired her two defense lawyers – Rae Dreves and Becky Briggs – and hired her family lawyer, Hugh Boles of Durango, to oversee the hearing.
Garcia apologized for the expense taxpayers incurred as a result of her case going to trial. The district attorney’s office offered several plea agreements before the trial, she said, and none of them included jail time. It’s not fair that she is facing prison for taking the case to trial, she said.
It bothers her that some people think she didn’t want her husband’s murder to be solved, she said. It also bothers her that some people think she is treating the courtroom as her personal theater.
She broke down crying while expressing her love for her husband and the family she has lost. The felony convictions will prevent her from working at schools and possibly serving on community boards, she said.
“Everything that I’ve done in my life, it’s over,” she said. “I have to turn in my notary seal to the state of Colorado.”
Garcia is a lifelong resident of La Plata County, a 1995 graduate of Fort Lewis College, has 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. She had held various jobs with Durango School District 9-R.
Ted Garcia was the manager of Francisco’s Restaurante y Cantina on Main Avenue.
He was shot and killed late July 23, 2010, or early July 24, 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.
Suzanne Garcia was in Baltimore caring for her father at the time of his death. She was scheduled to return July 24, 2010. Investigators said they have no evidence that Suzanne Garcia played a role in the homicide.
Dernoga received 16 years in prison after signing a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.
The 2½-year ordeal exposed a rift between Suzanne Garcia’s and Ted Garcia’s side of the family.
“Suzanne has inflicted so much pain to so many people it would take a week to talk about it,” Francis Garcia, father of Ted Garcia, said while addressing the court. “Suzanne has been relentless in trying to destroy our lives, our livelihood. We are tired of looking over our shoulder.”
Suzanne Garcia lost custody of her oldest daughter, Claudia, 16, who is now living with Francis Garcia.
“You deserve the harshest sentence possible,” Francis Garcia said.
“A good mother would not drive a wedge between her two daughters,” he said.
The courtroom was nearly packed with friends, family and curious observers – including lawyers and investigators who worked the case.
Outside the courtroom, Francis Garcia expressed satisfaction with the punishment.
“Nobody wins, especially my granddaughters,” he said. “Justice was served. It sends a message to young people that they can’t obstruct the law.
“She’s been doing this a long time,” he said. “The judge looked at her record. It’s not a good one.”
Claudia Garcia also supported the judge’s decision.
“I’m just happy that it’s all over,” she said, “and I’m happy that my dad got the justice that he deserves.”