Teen: I killed Brenda Garzio in Trenton in self-defense following sex act

Jose Garcia

The teenager accused of murdering Hamilton woman Brenda Garzio says he acted in self-defense when he stabbed the 48-year-old victim to death following a consensual sex act they had over Memorial Day weekend in Trenton, according to a statement he gave to police.

Jose C. Garcia, 18, of Hamilton, told police he is the killer responsible for Garzio’s death but framed the May 28 slaying as a justifiable homicide.

“I do believe that there is a self-defense claim here,” Garcia’s lawyer Malaeika Montgomery said in court on Tuesday, adding the violent encounter between her client and the victim began as a sexual romp between two consenting adults.

“After the conclusion of that sex act, the alleged victim in this incident pulled a knife on Mr. Garcia,” Montgomery said. “The alleged victim then attempted to obtain more money from Mr. Garcia for the services that had been provided. Mr. Garcia truly feared for his life and reacted in that particular moment in that situation.”

Detective Michael Castaldo of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Garcia last Thursday on murder charges and weapons offenses after reviewing surveillance footage that depicted Garcia fleeing the area where the homicide occurred on the 900 block of South Broad Street — a troubled area that is well-known to police for quality-of-life issues that include prostitution.

Garcia fully cooperated with police when he gave the statement identifying himself as the killer, according to Montgomery and court documents. The victim on the night of the slaying was screaming for help and screaming for police and suffered multiple stab wounds. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Prosecutors last Friday filed a motion seeking to keep Garcia locked up without bail while his murder case plays out in court. At Garcia’s detention hearing on Tuesday, Montgomery tried to persuade Mercer County Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw to release her client from jail on electronically monitored home detention.

“This is not a situation of an individual hunting someone down or simply getting involved in a situation because they are in a gang,” Montgomery said. “This was an unfortunate incident that occurred as a result of Mr. Garcia’s interaction with this victim in this particular situation.”

Garcia, who turns 19 next month, “was brought to headquarters, and he gave a statement, and he acknowledged having stabbed the victim, so the identity is not an issue here,” Warshaw said Tuesday after reviewing the affidavit of probable cause.

Warshaw asked the state on what grounds was it filing the pretrial detention motion against Garcia.

“Your honor, this case has a presumption of detention. It’s a murder case, so that’s the grounds,” Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor John Boyle said. “The state has also listed a danger to the community.”

Boyle also told Warshaw not to consider Garcia’s self-defense argument.

“The defendant may argue self-defense,” Boyle said. “At this point we don’t think that’s a decision for the court. That’s something that the defense has to try to establish in front of a jury in light of the facts here.”

“This is charged as a murder,” Boyle added. “It is a very serious offense. There is a presumption to overcome in this case, and I don’t think simply the assertion of self-defense gets us there.”

Prior to his arrest, Garcia lived with his uncle on Marshall Avenue in Hamilton and did work with his stepfather’s demolition company from time to time, according to statements made in court.

Garcia’s Public Safety Assessment or PSA score recommended he not be released from jail pretrial, although the PSA score graded him as a low-risk defendant. The PSA scale said he had the lowest potential risk of failing to appear in court — scoring him 1 out of 6. The scale also graded him 2 out of 6 on potential risk of committing new criminal activity and suggested he was not at risk for committing new criminal acts of violence.

Garcia did not have any prior contacts with the criminal justice system as an adult but did have an adjudication for a firearms offense from when he was a juvenile, according to additional statements read in court.

Brenda Garzio

Brenda Garzio

“The court has received additional information that subsequent to a consensual sex act of some kind, the argument is that the victim pulled a knife on the defendant and tried to get money from the defendant,” Warshaw said. “The defendant was fearful for his life and he ended up stabbing the victim. I don’t know whether there was one knife, more than one knife, whether the defendant takes a position that he had to disarm the victim, I don’t know any of those things right now, but I do understand and consider the arguments made by defense counsel, particularly that this is something which was between two people if you will, personal if you will, as opposed to something where the court would have a generalized threat to the community, which the court could reasonably perceive.”

But in the end, Warshaw signed the order placing Garcia on pretrial detention.

“The fact is I am satisfied that the presumption (of detention) is appropriately applied to this case,” he said, adding that “the presumption has not been satisfactorily rebutted by proofs.”

In other words, Garcia and his lawyer did not make a compelling enough argument to justify his release from jail while his murder case plays out in court. He could remain incarcerated without bail for up to two years but has a right to appeal his detention order.

Garzio was Trenton’s eighth homicide victim of 2017. She worked as a secretary for the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, up until she took an early retirement after clocking in 25 years and 11 months of public service.

In his defense, Garcia alleges that Garzio had attempted to extort money from him at knifepoint following a consensual sex act, prompting him to kill her about 11:10 p.m. May 28 on the 900 block of South Broad Street in Trenton.

Police in recent years have conducted several undercover stings that resulted in numerous alleged prostitutes getting arrested around the area where Garzio was stabbed to death.

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