Saturday, March 6, 2010

Grieving mom hopes to help others; her 9-month-old son was murdered by dad during court-ordered visitation (San Bernadino, California)

We've posted on this case many times, but it still infuriates me. This mom KNEW that her ex-boyfriend STEPHEN GARCIA was violent and threatening to kill her and their 9-month-old son. But THREE JUDGES turned down her requests for help. The baby was later murdered by his father during court-ordered visitation.

Due to a TREMENDOUS public outcry, Judge Robert Lemkau finally apologized to this mother. This is extremely rare for a judge. As an "Internet forum specializing in family court issues," I'd like to think that Dastardly Dads played some small role is extracting this apology.

None of this restores this murdered baby to his mother's arms. But perhaps some other child will be spared in the future. One can only hope....

Grieving mother hopes others will benefit from her tragedy
Mike Cruz, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/06/2010 06:12:39 AM PST

SAN BERNARDINO - Katie Tagle had the evidence in her hands that she believes could have prevented the death of her 9-month-old son, Wyatt.

Threatening e-mails and text messages from her son's father. Police reports that told of danger brewing for Wyatt and his mother. And frightening postings on the social network Facebook.

But none of that mattered when the 23-year-old Yucca Valley mother sought an emergency restraining order against the boy's father, Stephen Garcia.

Judge Robert Lemkau denied Tagle's request at a Jan. 21 hearing in Victorville Superior Court, but not before he accused her several times of lying and threatened her with "adverse consequences," according to transcripts of the hearing.

"God, I'm just sitting there crying, and I'm so, so angry," the young mother recalled last week. "I remember when I walked out of the courtroom, Stephen was holding open the door and he was just smiling at me."

Tagle was shocked by the judge's decision.

"I wish he would have just listened to me," she said.

The day of the hearing, Tagle had left Wyatt at home in Yucca Valley.

She was sure the judge would find in her favor and protect her son.

Instead, she had to drive home right away, get Wyatt and hand him over to Garcia to comply with a court-ordered visitation.

Garcia was waiting with a deputy for Tagle to exchange Wyatt.

"I had to do it," Tagle said. "I didn't want to get in trouble.

I didn't want to get Wyatt fully taken away from me."

Ten days later, authorities say, Garcia loaded Wyatt into his car, drove to Old Toll Road, an isolated dirt road near Twin Peaks, then fatally shot Wyatt before turning the gun on himself.

With a heart weighed down by the pain of a lost child, Tagle now hopes her story generates change.

"I just don't want this to happen to somebody else," Tagle said, as a large photo of a smiling Wyatt lay on a table before her.

After weeks of silence, Lemkau on Wednesday apologized to Tagle from the bench - a rare move for a jurist - and said he was sorry for his comments to her during a roughly 2-minute mea culpa.

Tagle said she could see the judge was reading from a prepared statement and felt Lemkau's words lacked feeling.

"He said that he never meant to put Wyatt or any child in harm's way," Tagle said. The judge also said he was father and a grandfather and that Tagle's case had affected him, too.

Lemkau did not return several messages left seeking comment for this story. The court's presiding judge has said it would be unethical for Lemkau to discuss the case with the media.

As a result of the decision, Deputy District Attorney James Hoskins said he plans to challenge Lemkau for his seat on the bench.

A march is also planned by Tagle's supporters early Monday morning in front of the Victorville courthouse. Other media outlets have interviewed Tagle, and Internet forums specializing in family court issues are abuzz with news of her case.


Supported by her sister Andrea Rodriguez, mother Maria Brown and other family and friends, Tagle recalled some of the events that preceded the tragedy.

Another Superior Court judge, David Mazurek in Joshua Tree, initially denied an emergency protective order for Tagle, before granting it on Jan. 14. Mazurek's order ran out on Jan. 21, and Tagle had planned to present all the e-mails, text messages and police reports on that day to Lemkau.

But before the proceedings even got underway, Lemkau appeared to have already made his decision, according to the court transcript.

"One of you is lying and I am very concerned," Lemkau said, just moments after he identified the parties involved and announced good morning. Garcia had claimed the e-mails and alleged threats were fabricated in his written response to the court.

But Tagle continued to try to relay to the judge that Garcia had indeed threatened to kill Wyatt.

"(Garcia) sent my mother a text message asking me to go to the lake with him and Wyatt," Tagle told Lemkau. "And when I get home from work at 11:00, I have these e-mails saying that he's going to take his life and our son's life at the lake the next time he gets him.

"And if he doesn't do it that day, he will finish the job later," Tagle said.

The judge denied her request and left the visitation orders in place.

"My supposition, ma'am, is that you're lying, but if I'm incorrect, you can always bring another ex-parte motion," Lemkau said. "But don't misrepresent the situation. If you're lying about this, there's going to be adverse consequences. My supposition is that you're lying."

Tagle said she hoped to get supervised visits for Wyatt and his father.

"I never wanted Wyatt to go without a dad," Tagle said. "Everybody thinks I just wanted to take Wyatt away from Stephen, and that wasn't the case at all.

"Stephen needed help. He started saying he was going to kill me, kill the baby, kill himself and that's when... He needed help, and everybody just ignored it and sugar-coated it," said Tagle.

Tagle's mother, Maria Brown, said the judge had a number of options before him instead of just denying her daughter's request. Wyatt could have been temporarily given to Tagle's sister.

"He could have protected Wyatt in a number of ways," Brown said. "If he doubted her and he doubted Stephen, he could have taken custody away from both of them at that point and protected that baby."


The evening before Wyatt and Garcia died, Tagle said they were hopeful they would the baby back from his father's visitation.

The mother and her family had been up all night, and they were getting little information from the Sheriff's Department.

Finally, around 5 a.m. on Jan. 31, dispatchers told Tagle that detectives wanted to come out to her home in Yucca Valley and talk to her. When detectives called her 15 minutes later, she asked where Wyatt was.

Detectives simply responded that that was why they wanted to talk to her.

Tagle called Garcia's mom, because detectives had told her they wanted to talk to Garcia's parents too.

"Did they call you?" Tagle said she asked Garcia's mom. "And that's when she started crying. She said, 'You didn't hear?' And I said, 'No.' She said, 'Just go home. Just go home. Just let the detectives talk to you."'

Garcia's father had also been searching for his son, the mother said, then offered a cryptic but chilling explanation.

"He did it. He did it," Tagle recalled being told.

At 9:30 a.m., detectives arrived at Tagle's home. Wyatt wasn't with them.

"I was hoping to God that they had Wyatt in the back seat and they were bringing him to me," Tagle said. "Even though what she had told me, I was like, `no, he's going to be in the back seat. He's going to be in the back seat.' And he wasn't."

Detectives asked if she wanted to hear the details, but Tagle couldn't handle the news.

"I ran out in the middle of the desert," Tagle said. "My brother came chasing after me. He grabbed me and made me stop. I didn't want to hear it.

"I couldn't be around anybody anymore. But they said there was two confirmed (dead), and that was it," she said.

Tagle doesn't want to be pitied by people who hear her story. Instead, she and her family want justice for Wyatt.

"I know people feel bad for me and stuff," the young mother said.

"They want to help and they want to give me money and everything. I'm not looking for that.

"I just... I just don't want this to happen to somebody else."

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