A Kent teen will remain in state custody until he turns 21 for the second-degree murder in 2018 of Kent Police Officer Diego Moreno.
Emiliano Garcia, 17, received the sentence on Friday at the King County Courthouse in Seattle from Judge Sean O’Donnell. He will be held at a residential facility operated by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families Juvenile Rehabilitation program. King County prosecutors and defense attorneys reached an agreement in October when Garcia pleaded guilty to the charge in exchange for a shorter sentence.
Garcia initially pleaded not guilty to murder in August 2018 after a police pursuit of him resulted in the death of Moreno. Garcia, then 16, drove a 2003 Dodge Ram pickup pursued by Kent Police Officer Mark Williams, who later inadvertently struck and killed Moreno early on the Sunday morning of July 22, 2018, at the intersection of Kent Des Moines Road and West Meeker Street. Moreno, 35, of Auburn, married with two young children, had just deployed spike strips to stop the truck shortly before he was hit outside his vehicle.
Garcia was initially charged in adult criminal court because under Washington law, if a juvenile is 16 or 17 years old and is charged with second-degree murder, charges are to be filed into adult criminal court instead of juvenile court.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed earlier this year to move the case from King County Superior Court to King County Juvenile Court, so he could face sentencing as a juvenile.
In court documents, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Jessica Berliner and Karissa Taylor said why they agreed to a plea deal.
“During the course of the plea negotiations, the state considered the strength of the evidence, the likely impact of a trial on the victims and the community, the defendant’s youthfulness and lack of any prior contact with the criminal justice system and information pertaining to the defendant’s cognitive and educational abilities,” according to the document.
“The parties agree that waiving exclusive adult criminal jurisdiction and submitting the case to the juvenile court is in the best interest of both the defendant and the public.”
Berliner, Taylor, defense attorney Bradley Barshis and Garcia each signed the plea agreement.
Garcia will be out in four years when he turns 21 in December 2023. If the case had remained in Superior Court and a jury found Garcia guilty as charged, he would have faced a sentence range of 10 years to 18 years, according to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors charged Garcia with murder as the driver after he and two other occupants of a pickup illegally possessed several guns and fired off numerous rounds in a parking lot at El Habaneros bar and restaurant, 1819 W. Meeker St., in Kent, and then fled the scene, driving recklessly and attempting to elude the police.
In this case, prosecutors said, Garcia was committing a dangerous felony by attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. This felony created a serious and grave risk to the public and to police. As a direct result of his actions, Officer Moreno was killed.
Garcia admitted to detectives he knew police were chasing him, but he fled at speeds of up to 95 mph along Kent Des Moines Road. He crashed the pickup – owned by his father – shortly after hitting the spike strips. None of the teens were seriously injured. Garcia and one passenger fled on foot. The other teen stayed in the truck and told police the names of the other two boys in the truck.
Prosecutors charged two 17-year-old passengers in the pickup with unlawful possession of a firearm and reckless endangerment, according to court documents. They were each charged in juvenile court and pleaded guilty in December. They each received 60 days in jail, two years of community supervision and 200 hours of community service.