SAN ANTONIO – In what can best be described as a massive blow to the prosecution in the Michelle Barrientes Vela public corruption trial, ex-captain Marc D. Garcia was granted immunity by the state Tuesday morning only to have the judge overseeing the case exclude his testimony hours later.
Garcia, the only member of Barrientes Vela’s administration besides her to be indicted, saw his felony perjury case and three counts of official oppression dismissed by prosecutors in a deal described in open court Tuesday morning.
But in order to have Garcia’s testimony heard in open court, prosecutors had to overcome a big hurdle: convince Judge Velia Meza that Garcia’s testimony had not been tainted.
The ex-constable’s attorneys earlier this month raised conflict of interest concerns after learning that Garcia was scheduled to testify against their client since both Barrientes Vela and Garcia were represented by the same attorney at one point.
Mark Anthony Sanchez represented both Garcia and Barrientes Vela in multiple civil claims filed against the former Precinct 2 leaders by other members of the agency.
Sanchez had continued to serve as Garcia’s criminal defense attorney as well.
Sanchez withdrew from the criminal case, and Garcia showed up to court earlier this month with a new attorney -- Alex Scharff.
Judge Velia Meza, in an order released late last week, stated that Garcia would first testify Tuesday behind closed doors, without spectators or cameras present.
The hearing then took place in camera, meaning only the judge and members of the prosecution and defense were allowed inside.
Spectators and cameras were allowed back into court after lunch Tuesday, only to then be dismissed again by Judge Meza.
Garcia, flanked by supporters, was then seen leaving the courtroom around 2 p.m. without having taken the witness stand.
Spectators and cameras were allowed back inside a third time. They saw the prosecution rest its case without calling any additional witnesses.
“He is immune, and the cases are dismissed,” Barrientes Vela’s defense attorney, Jason Goss, said after the proceedings.
He declined to say what took place during the in camera hearing, describing it as a sealed proceeding.
Judge Meza’s one-page order stated simply that she had granted the defense’s motion to exclude Garcia’s testimony.
“We never had an issue with what Marc Garcia was going to say. The issue that we had was that it was an injustice that Michelle’s lawyer had represented him against her,” said Goss.
Bexar County court records listed all four of Garcia’s cases as closed and dismissed as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.
A Bexar County jury on Sept. 1 convicted Barrientes Vela on two felony counts of tampering with records.
She altered security payment records from a West Side park and then provided a fake set of documents to law enforcement, all after being issued grand jury subpoenas in the summer of 2019.
Additional allegations against Barrientes Vela, including multiple counts of official oppression, have been “proved up” by the prosecution during the start and stop sentencing portion of her trial.
Barrientes Vela’s sentencing is scheduled to resume the first week of January.
Goss said he anticipates calling one to two days’ worth of witnesses on his client’s behalf.
She faces between two years of probation and 10 years in prison.
She has asked to be sentenced by Judge Meza.