Thursday, February 11, 2016

Police: Teen was in Hiding When Hunted Down by Gang Members

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 4:55 PM

click to enlarge Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez. - COURTESY OF EPD
  • Courtesy of EPD
  • Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez.
Fourteen-year-old Jesus Garcia-Romero knew his life was in danger, so he and a friend holed up in an apartment on Eureka’s P Street the night of Dec. 16, 2014, according to a court document.

The document — an affidavit in support of the arrest warrant issued for 33-year-old Nicholas Leigl for the murder of the Arcata teen — sheds new light on the case and explains in detail what police believe happened the night Garcia-Romero was stabbed to death. The affidavit also points to a motive for the killing: Garcia-Romero’s slight of a gang leader’s son.

Garcia-Romero was found dying at about 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2014, bleeding from three stab wounds to the abdomen in the front yard of a small blue house with a red door on Eureka’s 15th Street. It was cold and rainy out, and Garcia-Romero was soaked, apparently having been lying on the grassy lawn for hours. He had no pulse, according to the affidavit, but was gasping for breath. After extensive life-saving efforts, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

At a Feb. 4 press conference, the Eureka Police Department announced it had arrested four men — Joe Olivo Jr., Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez and Nicholas Leigl — on suspicion of murdering Garcia-Romero. Further, EPD officials said the four suspects all had gang ties, and that they believed the killing was gang-related. But when it came to details of the case — where the teen was killed, why, and which of the four defendants stabbed him — officials were silent.

The affidavit in support of Leigl’s arrest, which is a part of his public case file, answers some of those questions. The affidavit begins with EPD detective Ron Harpham stating that he believes there is probable cause to believe Leigl murdered, and conspired to murder, Garcia-Romero.

Two days after Garcia-Romero’s death, Eureka Police Department detectives received an anonymous letter that identified Olivo Jr., Olivo III and Nunez as the teen’s alleged murderers, and alleged that a fourth man — Leigl — was supposed to take the 14-year-old to a hospital after the stabbing but instead dumped him in the yard where he was found. Through a lengthy investigation, EPD detective Ron Harpham believes he was able to verify many of the details in the letter.

click to enlarge Jesus Romero-Garcia - FACEBOOK
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  • Jesus Romero-Garcia
According to the affidavit, Olivo Jr. is a Sureño gang leader from the Oceana set and a member of the Mexican Mafia from San Luis Obispo County. His son, Olivo III, was in his father’s gang and aspired to a higher gang status, respect and leadership, but was “subservient to his father in gang hierarchy,” according to the document. (EPD has also previously identified Olivo III as an alleged associate of the local Sur 13 gang.) In an alleged Facebook post, Olivo III — then 17 years old — said he was “coming after” Romero-Garcia for a perceived slight, the affidavit states. A few days prior to Garcia-Romero’s death, Olivo allegedly posted again to Facebook, saying that he’d arrived in Eureka.

In the days prior to his death, Garcia-Romero was nervous. He told Leigl’s girlfriend — who the affidavit states was a maternal figure in the teen’s life and had taken to calling him “son” — that he was concerned Olivo Jr. and Nunez were looking for him and a friend to “harm them over gang issues.” The affidavit goes on to state that Garcia-Romero told the friend that Olivo Jr. intended to murder them.

So the pair hid out in Leigl’s girlfriend’s apartment on P Street. “The two had a plan to stay inside and not let anyone in,” the affidavit states. Then, sometime after 10 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2014, Leigl called his girlfriend to let her know he was coming over. Garcia-Romero and his friend told the girlfriend “to make sure he was alone,” according to the affidavit. Leigl knocked on the door a short time later and his girlfriend answered. “Based on his demeanor, she knew something was wrong,” states the affidavit. “Leigl stepped aside and Olivo Jr., Olivo III and Mario Nunez stepped in. She saw Olivo III with a knife in his hand.” The girlfriend then retreated to a back room where Garcia-Romero’s friend was, but heard a commotion in the hallway. When she came out a moment later, the affidavit states, she saw the three men fleeing the apartment and Garcia-Romero doubled over in pain. Two other witnesses corroborated the girlfriend’s statements, according to the affidavit, though one account stated that Nunez waited outside the apartment as the alleged assault took place.

Garcia-Romero’s friend insisted that Leigl take the bleeding teen to the hospital and Leigl agreed, according to the affidavit, which goes on to state that the friend and another man helped load Garcia-Romero into Leigl’s black Volvo. The friend, according to the affidavit, later told police he believed Leigl “had a large part in setting up this stabbing.”

After receiving the anonymous letter, EPD detectives searched both the P Street apartment and Leigl’s Volvo. They reported finding blood on the apartment’s carpet and in the Volvo and DNA tests later confirmed it was Garcia-Romero’s, according to the affidavit.

At the time of Garcia-Romero’s death, state parole agents and the San Luis Obispo Gang Task Force were both tracking Olivo Jr.’s movements through his phone, as he was considered a fugitive, wanted for violating his parole. The day after Garcia-Romero’s killing, the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force used the GPS phone data to track Olivo Jr. down in Fortuna, and took him and Nunez into custody on prior warrants. “Olivo III was found sleeping in a motel bed,” the affidavit states. “His fingers were cut on his left hand and he had used a bandana to stop the bleeding. A switchblade knife was rolled up in his bedding.”

At the time, according to the affidavit, police still had not identified the three men as suspects in Garcia-Romero’s death.

Leigl, who was arrested Feb. 3 by EPD officers as he arrived at work, entered not guilty pleas Feb. 5 in the case. Olivo III, who was arrested Feb. 2 by the San Luis Obispo Probation Department and the Gang Task Force, was transported to Humboldt County on Feb. 9, made his initial court appearance today and is expected to be formally arraigned Feb. 18. Olivo Jr. and Nunez, currently housed in Pelican Bay and San Quentin state prisons, respectively, are still awaiting transport to Humboldt. EPD detective Ron Harpham said all four defendants are U.S. citizens.

All four have been charged with murder and a special allegation that the killing was committed “in the furtherance of gang activities." If convicted, all face life in prison without the possibility of parole except Olivo III, who was a juvenile at the time of the alleged offense, and consequently faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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