Preliminary hearing for 6 accused in Carson City drug deal murder case begins
The preliminary hearing began Monday for six of the alleged suspects involved in the murder of a Carson City man in January.
Reed Skenandore, 21; Jesus Garcia-Manriquez, 18; Allen Garcia-Manriquez, 19; Jonathan Skenandore, 18; Daniel Lease, 20; and Jacob Huttman, 19 all appeared in Judge John Tatro’s Justice Court Monday for their preliminary hearing in the murder of 18-year-old Grant Watkins.
Reed Skenandore, Jesus Garcia-Manriquez and Huttman are all charged with felony open murder, felony murder with the use of a deadly weapon committed in the perpetration of a robbery, felony robbery with a deadly weapon, felony attempted murder with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery. Jonathan Skenandore, Lease, Allen Garcia-Manriquez were all arrested on accessory to commit murder and accessory to robbery. Two others also were arrested.
Watkins was killed Jan. 11 after being shot in the abdomen in an early morning drug deal-turned robbery, detectives said. Detectives believe Watkins was meeting with Reed, Jesus Garcia-Manriquez and Huttman around 12:30 a.m. at Blackwell’s Pond Park to sell the three men three ounces of marijuana when one of the three shot Watkins. Watkins was transported to Carson Tahoe Hospital by a friend on scene where he died. It is unknown still who was at the scene, as Jesus Garcia-Manriquez claimed he was on the street behind the park and only heard the shots fired.
The court was only able to get through two witnesses and started on a third before ending the six and a half hour day. The District Attorney’s Office called Carson City Deputy Kevin Murry, the first responder, Det. David LeGros, the lead detective, and Det. Salvador Acosta a second detective on the case as their witnesses.
One piece of evidence the attorneys focused heavily on was the statement given to deputies by Johnny Escabar on the night of the murder. Escabar was the friend who transported Watkins to the hospital and he was able to give police the description of possible suspects and the location of the crime scene. Escabar’s statement led police to the area where the shooting happened and they found four shell casings and a knife. Escabar was cleared as a suspect as there was no gunshot residue on his hands and he was cooperative with police.
“To be frank, it’s not many times someone shoots someone and then transports them to the hospital,” LeGros said when questioned why Escabar wasn’t identified as a suspect.
Murry also collected clothing, a cell phone and a plastic gun grip from Escabar at the hospital. The defense attorneys tried to dissect Murry’s collection procedure including how Murry searched for the casings, if he may have missed evidence in the dark and how he collected the clothes and gun grip from Escabar at the hospital.
The questioning of LeGros took nearly three hours, as both sides had the detective take them through the entire investigation, including how detectives got to each arrest and which evidence was collected to connect each defendant.
The defense attorneys kept objecting to the DAs questioning, claiming hearsay with LeGros’s testimony because much of the information that led to arrests came from interviews with witnesses and suspects. Defense attorney Ben Walker claimed that the DA was using certain questions to allow information that wasn’t first-hand accounts from the detective.
“It just bothers me that the state is using this as a way to get evidence into the case that isn’t admissible,” Walker said.
To combat this, Judge Tatro instructed the DA to keep questions limited to yes or no answers so that the witness could not include statements made by witnesses as evidence.
LeGros said it was Escabar’s information that led them to the Garcia-Manriquez brothers, who were arrested less than 12 hours after the murder following a SWAT raid on their residence. Allen Garcia-Manriquez and his attorney claimed he didn’t know about the robbery and just drove his brother to a place several blocks from the scene and let his brother use his phone, and Jesus Garcia-Manriquez claimed he only set up the deal between Reed and Watkins and wasn’t actually on scene.
LeGros also testified Watkins gave Escabar the knife and put the BB gun in the front of his pants during the transaction because he was suspicious of the deal. Escabar told detectives the deal was originally supposed to happen in front of his house, but when Jesus Garcia-Manriquez changed the location, Watkins decided to bring the weapons in case something wasn’t right. The defense attempted to insinuate that Watkins and Escabar could have been preparing a robbery and they shot because they saw the BB gun on Watkins, but LeGros said that was highly improbable because none of the witnesses claimed to see a gun before the shooting.
“No one said that Grant pulled a gun,” LeGros said. “All individuals said there was no gun and that Grant was pulling his hands out of his (sweatshirt) pocket when he was shot.”
The questioning also focused heavily on the recovery of one of the firearms and clothing that was disposed in the Dayton hills. The suspects had given three firearms to Lease to hide. Lease and the other suspects dismantled and buried one .9 millimeter gun, with the handle buried near a creek bed and the slide buried on the hill nearly a mile away. A bag of partially burned clothing was also dug up by police and crime scene investigators. It was discovered that the other two firearms involved, two .40 caliber guns belonging to Jonathan Skenandore and Jacob Huttman, were sold by Lease and traded in Los Angeles for methamphetamine and weren’t recovered by police. Lease originally cooperated with detectives and led them to the buried evidence, but was later arrested due to his involvement.
The DA was the only side to get through Acosta’s direct questioning before court adjourned for the day. Through investigation with cell phone logs and locations, Acosta testified that they were able to connect many of the suspects together with cell phone GPS that put them with all with Lease at his residence before the murder, and also put Reed and Lease’s cell phones in the areas where the disposed evidence was found. Phone records also showed multiple calls between the suspects before and after the murder.
The only two not present were Keenan Blackmore, 19 and a 17-year-old. The reasoning why Blackmore was not present in court would be explained later in the proceedings, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Luis said. Watkins’s mother, father and girlfriend were all present in the audience.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last at least another four days.