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UPDATE: Garcia guilty in slaying of Burbank cop

Shooter sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering officer

Posted: July 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2012 9:30 a.m.

A Sunland man was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole Tuesday for the 2003 murder of a Burbank police officer who lived in Canyon Country.

David A. Garcia, 28, pleaded guilty to the murder of Officer Matthew Pavelka and the attempted murder of his partner, Officer Gregory Campbell, as well drug and weapons charges.

He also pleaded guilty to two special circumstances: murdering a peace officer in the performance of his duties and committing murder for the purpose of avoiding or preventing unlawful arrest.

Garcia entered his plea of guilty to all counts in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday. He was sentenced the same day to life without parole by Judge Robert J. Perry.

Pavelka, who was 26 at the time, and Campbell were shot in the parking lot of a hotel near the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on Nov. 15, 2003.

Campbell was on patrol and saw two men sitting in a car that had no license plates in an area known for drug dealing and gang activity, according to a news release from the District Attorney’s office.

Campbell radioed for help and Pavelka arrived. When the two officers approached the car, both men inside opened fire.

Pavelka was mortally wounded and died during surgery a few hours later. Campbell was seriously injured but survived.

Garcia’s partner in the crime, Ramon Aranda, 25, died at the scene.

Garcia fled to Mexico following the shooting and was arrested in Tijuana on Thanksgiving Day 2003. Because Garcia is an American citizen born and raised in the United States, extradition from Mexico was not an issue and he was returned to the U.S.

Two accomplices who helped him escape — his twin brother, James Garcia, and Erwin DeLeon — were convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison in April 2004.

Prosecutors said in 2004 they would seek the death penalty against him, but Garcia pleaded guilty to all counts Tuesday in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek capital punishment.

“We are pleased the defendant has admitted responsibility for these heinous crimes,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a statement. “We hope this resolution provides some measure of justice for the brutal murder of Officer Matthew Pavelka and the attempted murder of Officer Gregory Campbell.”

Besides murder and attempted murder, Garcia pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of methamphetamine, two counts each of possession of a machine gun and possession of an assault weapon, and one count of possession of a silencer.

Garcia was indicted in 2005 on multiple federal charges related to street gang activity. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting him on those counts.

His plea took as long as it did, said a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, because more than 20 gang-related cases had to be heard first.

“Two joint-forces operations — Operation Swift Intruder and Operation Silent Knight — involving Vineland Boyz gang members took time to go to court,” Sgt. Darin Ryburn said Tuesday.

“He (Garcia) was a Vineland Boyz member, so it took a while for all the federal trials to go through,” he said.

Surviving members of Pavelka’s family expressed relief hearing about Garcia’s guilty plea, Ryburn said.

“They told me, ‘We are pleased that the case has finally come to a disposition’ and that they are pleased with the outcome,” Ryburn said.

Pavelka’s death sent shock waves through the Santa Clarita Valley. It followed the slaying of David March, a Saugus resident and law enforcement officer, who was gunned down by a man during a routine traffic stop in Irwindale in April 2002.

The suspect in that case, Armando Garcia, a Mexican native, also fled to Mexico and took years to apprehend and extradite.

“It was terrible to have lost that police officer’s life,” Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar said of Pavelka’s death.

“A police officer’s life is no more valuable than any citizen’s,” said Kellar, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer who battled to keep the David March case in the public’s eye. “The thought of losing one’s wife, child, son, sister, brother is equally traumatic.”

“We need to do a better job of ensuring the safety of our citizens,” he said, decrying the length of time it took David Garcia to be sentenced.



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