In the middle of an argument with his girlfriend, Jorge Witrago picked up and swung a hammer that had been next to a crib in the couple’s bedroom.
He told police he blacked out and when he came to, 19-year-old Wendy Garcia was taking her last breaths.
Witrago, 20, said he went to the kitchen of their West Las Vegas duplex, lit a rag using the burner of a gas stove and chucked the flaming cloth into a corner of their bedroom.
Then, “he laid down next to Wendy,” Las Vegas homicide Detective Ken Hardy said, recounting Witrago’s interview with police.
Witrago told police that he and Garcia “had an agreement: They would both go together,” Hardy said during a preliminary hearing Monday in Justice Court, where a judge decided there was enough evidence to send Witrago to District Court to face charges of murder and first-degree arson.
Prior to Monday’s hearing, Witrago mouthed apologies toward an area of the court where his relatives and Garcia’s family were sitting. Witrago shook and wept during the detective’s testimony.
Hardy said Witrago told him Garcia had slapped Witrago’s face, injuring his nose. She was threatening to leave him and suggested he was not the father of their 1-year-old daughter, Witrago told police.
Outside the courtroom afterward, Garcia’s elder sister, Martha Muñoz, said, “She was a great person, and she didn’t deserve this.”
The 33-year-old, who lives in San Bernardino, Calif., with the rest of Garcia’s family, said Garcia always seemed happy and got along with everyone.
“She was a great mother,” Muñoz said.
Garcia’s family said the teen had talked about wanting to leave Witrago but worried that his family would try to take away the couple’s child.
The relatives also said Garcia told them Witrago had hit her once or twice before.
“She never really let on as to how bad it was,” Muñoz said.
According to a Clark County coroner’s report, Garcia was killed April 22 by eight blows to her head. The judge emphasized the coroner also found evidence indicating Garcia had inhaled soot, so she could have been alive when Witrago tried to burn down the house in the 300 block of George Place, near D Street and Owens Avenue.
Witrago told police his daughter and his brother were asleep in the living room at the time of the fight, and when the baby began crying, Witrago got his daughter and brother out of the burning home.
“He was going to take his life along with hers (Garcia’s) and then he heard his daughter screaming,” the police detective told the court.
During closing arguments, Witrago’s defense lawyer, Tim O’Brien, argued this was not a crime of murder because it lacked premeditation and deliberation. O’Brien said Witrago should face the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.