Man implicated in fire takes deal on other crimes
September 2, 2020
A Tucumcari man implicated in setting a 2012 fire in a local veterinarian clinic that killed more than 70 animals avoided jail time when he was sentenced Wednesday in a plea deal on other crimes and alluded to his role in the blaze during the court hearing.
The district attorney also mentioned the fire to the judge before sentencing and said the suspect was being investigated for other crimes that were “very concerning.”
Kevin Ronnie Garcia, 28, confessed to the Tucumcari Animal Hospital fire to state police earlier this year when DNA linked him to the scene. He also acknowledged he set the fire during an interview with the Quay County Sun. He never was charged with arson because of statute of limitations expired more than two years ago.
Garcia was sentenced Wednesday in Tucumcari District Court via videoconference after pleading guilty to a felony count of receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle, misdemeanor unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon and misdemeanor injuring or tampering with a motor vehicle in incidents in December and April.
Two other charges — false imprisonment and assault — were dropped in exchange for the guilty pleas.
District Judge Albert Mitchell had given Garcia a suspended total sentence of nearly three years in the Department of Corrections, plus supervised probation and $300 to $700 in fines and fees.
Garcia’s attorneys, Brett Phelps and Michael Aragon, and prosecutors said they didn’t object if Mitchell required Garcia to admit himself into an inpatient alcohol treatment program. Assistant prosecutor Ozy Adams also said Garcia had “longstanding substance-abuse issues,” alcohol in particular.
“Mr. Garcia, do you have an alcohol problem?” Mitchell asked.
Garcia said he did.
“I’m trying to control it; it’s been going over because of stress a little bit. … I’ve been trying to move on from everything that’s going on,” he said.
Mitchell said he would require Garcia to enroll in an inpatient alcohol program within 60 days.
“We’re talking a longstanding drinking problem that’s affecting your ability to get along with people,” Mitchell said.
Garcia responded: “No, no, sir, no. It was more stress, trying to take the edge off from everything that’s going on. Especially with the animal hospital, too; it’s been bringing me down for years.”
Phelps muted Garcia’s microphone, which brought an admonishment from Mitchell. “He can say what he wants to say,” Mitchell said.
Aragon defended the muting of Garcia’s audio.
“I think Mr. Garcia is going areas of an unindicted crime the state has acknowledged there’s a statute of limitations issue,” Aragon said. “I think he does have to be aware of Fifth Amendment rights that may trigger any other investigations, since there is an ongoing investigation. I would respectfully request that Mr. Garcia limit his comments to the two crimes he is pleading to today and nothing more.”
District Attorney Timothy Rose said Garcia’s binding plea deal was before his office was informed of the DNA evidence and confession regarding the 2012 fire and the statute of limitations preventing prosecution in that case.
“We wanted to make sure the court was aware of that,” Rose said of the fire. “In addition, there are other investigations ongoing the defense is aware of, as well.”
While acknowledging the 2012 case shouldn’t affect the plea, Rose said “it is concerning, and we think the court should have that in mind when setting the conditions of probation, making sure any substance-abuse issues with Mr. Garcia are addressed and that he be monitored with strict compliance with the Adult Probation and Parole Office to make sure any treatments needs he has are taken care of and that he’s on the right track and appropriately supervised.”
Garcia said he wanted to have the GPS ankle monitor removed so he could look for a second job. Mitchell ordered Garcia to wear it until he entered the alcohol program.
Garcia also was ordered to not have any contact with the victims in the two cases.
“That means no email, no text messaging, no Instagram, no Facebook, no third-party communications. No contact means no contact,” Adams told Garcia’s attorneys.
According to the original complaint and the factual finding in the case Wednesday, Garcia was accused on Christmas Day of taking possession of a stolen 2000 Kawasaki ATV and concealed a .45-caliber handgun in his pants pocket. In April, Garcia was accused of restraining a woman against her will and assaulting her. He also was accused of scratching or damaging a vehicle while removing its battery.