After a month-long trial, it took a Montgomery County jury a relatively short time to return a guilty verdict on Monday and convict two men on all counts in connection with the murder of two Northwest High School students.
The jury found both Edgar Garcia-Gaona and Rony Alexander Galacia guilty on all counts of the indictment, including two counts of first-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of Shadi Najjar and Artem Ziberov as they sat in Najjar’s blue Honda Civic on Monday, June 5, 2017, on Gallery Court in Montgomery Village.
“I am extremely proud of two magnificent and talented and extremely dedicated assistant districts attorneys Marybeth Ayres and Jessica Hall for trying this case on behalf of the government,” said State’s Attorney John McCarthy at a press conference Monday afternoon. “This case took one month, and an enormous amount of energy and preparation went into this case.”
The Montgomery County Circuit Court jury found that Garcia-Gaona and Galacia conspired to kill Najjar and Ziberov by luring them with the intention of purchasing a ticket to the next morning’s graduation.
“They were being lured to their own execution,” said McCarthy. “Thirty shots rang out on Gallery Place that evening and two young men who should have been graduating high school the next day lost their lives — each shot multiple times.”
Garcia-Gaona, 25, of 125 Lamont Lane in Gaithersburg, and Galacia, 26, of 19515 Frederick Road in Germantown, are the second and third of four total defendants to be convicted in connection to the killings. In January, the first defendant — Jose Canales-Yanez, 26, of Gaithersburg — was found guilty by Judge David Boynton on all eight counts in the indictment, including the top two counts of Murder in the First Degree. In August, Judge Boynton sentenced Canales-Yanez to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The conviction of these two killers makes Montgomery County a little safer for the rest of us,” said William Tewelow, Artem Ziberov’s father.
A fourth defendant, Roger Garcia, 19, of the 19500 block of Frederick Road in Germantown, was originally part of the trial which resulted in the convictions of Garcia-Gaona and Galacia, but a mistrial was declared after his attorney fell gravely ill with Cancer during the month-long trial.
“Marybeth Ayres closing argument was spectacular in this case,” said McCarthy. “She brought it all together because it wasn’t one single smoking gun, it was a tapestry of lots of facts that when put together gave the answer to this puzzle. It did not take the jury very long to reach a conclusion after a four-week trial. Guilty on all counts.” The closing arguments ended late last week and the Jury was given the case on Friday afternoon. According to McCarthy, the jury deliberated for a few hours on Friday, returned to deliberate for a few hours on Monday morning and returned a verdict by noon on Monday.
“It is a tribute to the men and women of the police department who investigated this case and the State’s Attorney’s Office,” said McCarthy. “This case was investigated by Detective Paula Hamill and Detective Frank Stringer who did an amazing job.
“These were tough cases. The families know how difficult it was to put this case together. These were tough cases because they were circumstantial cases, they were not eyewitness cases. They were circumstantial cases that put together over 50 witnesses, hundreds of pieces of evidence — cases that lasted a month. This was a very detailed, complex trial to put on. It was the extraordinary skill of the attorneys to, not simply repeat the evidence, but to explain how significant the evidence was and what it meant.”
McCarthy did point out the contribution of key witnesses who came forward to help the prosecution put the puzzle together properly. “There some witnesses who had the bravery to come forward who put these individuals all together in advance of the killing, discussing it in a trailer park here in Montgomery County,” said McCarthy.
During Monday’s press conference, the fathers of the two slain boys each thanked the police investigators and the prosecution for their work in bringing their sons’ killers to justice. They both also made a point to thank those witnesses who came forward to testify in this case.
Tewelow said, “We greatly appreciate the courage of the witnesses who came forward risking almost everything to see justice.” While Adi Najjar, the father of Shadi Najjar, said, “Some of [the witnesses] testified, and they knew they were going to lose everything and have to go into the witness protection program. They sacrificed everything to come forward. They saw me on TV, some of them, and they came forward because they know how hard it was for me to lose my only son.” The sentencing for both men convicted in this case is scheduled Jan. 24, 2019, before Judge Boynton. The State has filed for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, said McCarthy. The judge ordered both men held without bond, “which means that are not free,” said McCarthy, “They are not in the community, and they will be held until the date of their sentencing in January.
As for the fourth defendant, Roger Garcia, McCarthy said his office will be ready when his trial happens in a few weeks. “We are prepared to try to fourth defendant,” he said, “The people I feel sorry for are the parents of these two young boys who now have to go through another trial. We are ready to do it again. We will do it again. I wish we didn’t have to do it again, but Judge Boynton had no other choice the attorney, in this case, was gravely ill and declaring a mistrial was something he had to do. It is disappointing, it would have been nice for us to be standing here with it completely resolved — it’s not, but we’ll meet the next challenge when it comes.”
Top: Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy at the press conference after the Edgar Garcia-Gaona and Rony Alexander Galacia were found guilty by a jury of murdering two Northwest High School students.
Next: Edgar Garcia-Gaona and Rony Alexander Galacia were found guilty of all counts by a Montgomery County jury of the premeditated killing of Artem Ziberov and Shadi Najjar in June of 2017.
Next: Artem Ziberov’s father William Tewelow addresses the media on Monday.
Next: Adi Najjar, the father of Shadi Najjar speaks to the media at the Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse in Rockville on Monday.
Photos by Germantown Pulse