OMAHA, Neb. — A former doctor was convicted Oct. 26 in the revenge killings of four people, including the 11-year-old son of a faculty member he blamed for his firing 15 years ago from an Omaha medical school’s pathology residency program.
The Douglas County jury found Anthony Garcia guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. He now faces either life in prison or death — if voters opt on Nov. 8 to keep Nebraska’s death penalty.
Garcia, 42, of Terre Haute, Indiana, was convicted of fatally stabbing 11-year-old Thomas Hunter, son of Creighton University School of Medicine faculty member Dr. William Hunter; and the family’s housekeeper, 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman, in 2008 at the family’s home in an upscale Omaha neighborhood.
He also was found guilty of two other murders in a separate incident five years later, the 2013 Mother’s Day deaths of another Creighton pathology doctor, Roger Brumback, and his wife, Mary, in their Omaha home.
Police said the stabbing patterns on the Brumbacks were strikingly similar to those on Thomas and Sherman — deaths that to that point had remained unsolved.
“Our justice system worked today,” said Mike Sherman, Shirlee’s ex-husband and the father of their children, as he left the courtroom.
Garcia, dressed in a gray suit, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read, and his mother sobbed quietly a couple of rows behind him.
Other family members of the victims and those of Garcia declined to comment after the verdict was announced.
Other clues in the Brumbacks’ killings offered up more similarities to the 2008 deaths, and a police task force was formed to look into possible ties between the two events.
Investigators soon focused on Garcia, who they said acted on his long-simmering rage over being fired by Drs. Hunter and Brumback from the medical school’s residency program in 2001.
Prosecutors said Garcia blamed the doctors for informing other medical schools around the country of the firing, keeping Garcia from being accepted to several of them and from being approved for medical licenses in other states.
More digging turned up Garcia’s credit card purchases and cellphone records putting him in and around Omaha on May 12, 2013, the day the Brumbacks were killed.
Police arrested Garcia on a southern Illinois highway about two months after the Brumback killings.
A search of the Brumbacks’ home address was found on Garcia’s smartphone the day of their deaths, prosecutors said, and authorities linked him to an attempted break-in at another Creighton pathology department doctor’s home earlier that day.
In the 2008 Hunter home killings, neighborhood witnesses had told police they had seen an olive-skinned man in the neighborhood and at the door of William Hunter’s home.
They also reported a silver Honda CRV with out-of-state plates. Police later found that Garcia drove that type of vehicle in 2008, when he lived in and had the vehicle registered in Louisiana.
Garcia’s Chicago defense team relentlessly worked to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, accusing police of carelessly handling evidence and questioning the truthfulness of an exotic dancer who testified that Garcia once told her he “had killed a young boy and old woman.”
But the jury took only six hours over two days to find Garcia guilty of the murder and deadly weapon counts.
“With what they had, the jury made their decision,” defense attorney Robert Motta Jr. said, promising to appeal. “It was a tough case.”
The jury will reconvene Oct. 28 to determine whether aggravating factors exist to merit the death penalty.
Prosecutors have cited several aggravating factors, including the number of killings, the heinous nature of the crimes and their belief that Garcia killed the victims to keep from being identified.
If the jury recommends the death penalty, the case will go to a three-judge panel, which must vote unanimously for the death penalty to apply. That hearing will be set after the jury makes its decision.
(MARGERY A. BECK)