No change of venue in cemetery murder case

BY JESSICA STEPHEN
jstephen@kenoshanews.com


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Kenosha County jurors will have the chance to hear the case of a Kenosha man accused of killing a local woman found beaten and partially naked in a cemetery.

Attorneys met Wednesday to discuss the issue after Javier Garcia’s attorney questioned whether media coverage of Lisa Marie Mezera’s murder would prevent Garcia from having a fair trial.

Kenosha County Circuit Judge Mary Wagner decided local news reports were not prejudicial to Garcia, who was charged last year for allegedly beating and strangling Mezera, 26, of Kenosha, who was found dead in August in B’nai Zedek Cemetery, 1760 Sheridan Road.

“Perhaps circumstances could arise that we have to seek a jury from another county, but that is not now,” Wagner concluded. “We should attempt to pick a jury locally. ... At this point, I think we can.”

Garcia, 52, of Kenosha, was the last person seen with Mezera, and DNA evidence ties him to her deadly attack, according to a criminal complaint. He was charged in October with first-degree intentional homicide and felony battery, among other crimes. If convicted, he faces mandatory life in prison.

Previous assault

Attorneys also discussed Wednesday whether jurors should hear about allegations that Garcia kidnapped and sexually assaulted another woman more than a decade ago. Those charges, filed in 2000, were later dropped. But a prosecutor suggested the charges could be relevant in Mezera’s case.

Wagner tabled the issue until March, but expected to make a decision before Garcia stands trial in May.

Jurors to hear interview

Also Wednesday, Wagner decided that jurors could hear Garcia’s interview with investigators about Mezera’s disappearance.

Kenosha County Sheriff’s Detective Jeffrey Bliss testified that Garcia willingly came to the sheriff’s station to talk after authorities came to his home in the 2300 block of 56th Street in Kenosha.

“He said he wanted to help us find Lisa,” Bliss said.

Garcia talked about picking up Garcia about 4 p.m. the day she disappeared, but said he dropped her off about 6 p.m. and didn’t see her after that.

During their nearly three-hour interview, Bliss said Garcia was never under arrest and was told he was free to go. However, after Garcia allegedly admitted drinking alcohol, doing drugs and soliciting a prostitute, authorities did contact Garcia’s probation agent, who ordered him held in jail for apparent probation violations. He has been in custody since.

Before he was detained, Garcia agreed to let authorities swab his cheek for a DNA sample, although he refused to let investigators see his cellphone or search his home or car; Garcia insisted deputies would need a warrant for that, Bliss said.

Authorities never read Garcia his rights, because they said he was never placed under arrest.

Attorneys debated whether Garcia’s statement was voluntary based on the fact that he was ultimately detained. Wagner concluded that Garcia was not in custody during the interview and, therefore, willingly cooperated with investigators, which means jurors can hear what he told them.

Other charges stand

Finally Wednesday, Wagner refused to dismiss charges against Garcia for alleged attempted sexual assault, false imprisonment and theft.

Garcia’s attorney argued there was no proof to support the allegations, but Wagner found they were related to the primary homicide charge in Garcia’s case.

Garcia’s next hearing will be March 18. Attorneys will meet again in April to make sure his trial will begin as scheduled on May 6.

Garcia has pleaded not guilty. He is in custody because he has not posted a $1 million bond.

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