A young woman arrested in violent crime spree across San Diego County that left two men seriously injured and ended in a gun battle with police was sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Cindy Garcia, 20, was sentenced under a plea agreement reached with prosecutors. She initially faced 16 felony counts in a series of crimes that included the shooting of a young man who was left for dead in the street, the shooting of an off-duty officer at an ATM, a carjacking and arsons of vehicles.
In emotional testimony, the defendant's mother told the judge Friday that her daughter was once an ordinary child who dreamt of Barbie dolls and a father living at home before she was abducted and trafficked to Mexico.
Garcia was accused of committing the acts alongside 40-year-old former Riverside County firefighter Philip Hernandez, a man she described as her husband.
Under a plea deal, Garcia admitted to two of the counts - carjacking a man at gunpoint at the College Grove Mall and firing a semi-automatic firearm on police officers in a shootout that brought the crime spree to an end on Halloween night 2012.
Hernandez died in the gun battle with police on Harbor Drive in Barrio Logan. Garcia, who was 18 at the time, was taken into custody.
Two nights earlier, Will Barton was shot in the head while walking in North Park after finishing up the late shift at a nearby restaurant. His mother, Marie Lonsdale, attended Friday’s sentencing. She feels for all the families involved, including Garcia’s.
“The ripples that Cindy Garcia and Phillip Hernandez created they will last forever not only with our family but with the community and all the victims involved,” Lonsdale said.
Another family devastated by the crime spree was that of veteran San Diego police officer Les Stewart. He was robbed and shot in the head on Oct. 29 while using an ATM in Escondido.
“I don’t know if Cindy will grow up while she’s in prison," his wife, Laura Stewart, said in court, "But I hope one day she’ll be a proper person who will do good in this society and make something out of herself."
Garcia’s mother, her sisters and a close family friend testified that Garcia had a difficult childhood and survived being kidnapped and trafficked to Mexico.
“Her story to many is like a movie, unbelievable yet true,” said a close family friend explaining how Garcia was an ordinary kid when she was abducted at age 13.
The defendant’s mother testified in Spanish and through an interpreter that her daughter dreamt of a home with Barbie dolls and a father figure.
Prosecutors say Hernandez was arrested for his relationship with Garcia, which began in 2010 when Garcia was 16.
Garcia told NBC 7 in a 2012 jail interview that she went along with the violence because she and Hernandez were in love.
However, in an exclusive interview with NBC 7, family members of Hernandez blamed the relationship with the teenager for turning a man they called a well-respected public servant into a violent criminal.
Deputy District Attorney Jim Koerber said Garcia was also sentenced on a separate case of conspiring to attack a correctional deputy while incarcerated.
She pleaded guilty to that offense and the punishment was included in the 10 year sentence handed down Friday.
She has close to two years of time served. Because it’s a violent felony, Garcia must serve 85 percent of the sentence according to Koerber.
The rest of the charges were dismissed.