When he killed Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres in Badger Basin in either late 2013 or early 2014, John Marquez was “attempting to protect his family, his loved ones and doing what he felt was necessary,” his defense attorney said at a Tuesday court hearing.
Marquez, 53, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Park County’s District Court Tuesday afternoon, admitting he “purposely and maliciously” shot and killed Guerra-Torres sometime between Dec. 15, 2013, and Jan. 8, 2014. Though it was not brought up in court, prosecutors have alleged that Marquez later dismembered Guerra-Torres’ body with an ax in an attempt to keep his remains from being identified.
District Court Judge Steven Cranfill accepted a plea deal reached between Park County prosecutors and Marquez’s defense team and sentenced Marquez to 25 to 35 years in prison. The deal was abruptly agreed upon only hours before Cranfill imposed the sentence; the case had been set to go to trial in October on a first-degree, or premeditated, murder charge.
Two longtime family friends of Marquez, siblings Sandra and Pedro Garcia Jr., previously pleaded guilty for different roles in the murder. Pedro Garcia, 30, told authorities that he had asked Marquez to kill Guerra-Torres, explaining that Guerra-Torres owed $30,000-$40,000 to dangerous drug dealers in Mexico who were threatening their family; Pedro Garcia said it was Sandra Garcia’s idea to “take care of” Guerra-Torres, her long-time boyfriend. By Pedro Garcia’s account, Marquez agreed to kill Guerra-Torres for a small amount of methamphetamine and cash, but Marquez testified Tuesday that he committed the murder in the belief that his own family was in danger.
“I know what I did was wrong, now I’ve got to suffer the consequences. But I was led to believe my son and my grandchildren were in danger and that Pedro Garcia’s father and his mother [also were] and I did what I had to do,” Marquez told the judge. “Would I do it again? No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t even think of doing something stupid like that again.”
“I’m sorry his [Guerra-Torres’] family lost their brother, their son and his children lost their father,” Marquez added.
Authorities have been unable to get in contact with Guerra-Torres’ family since his murder, now more than three years ago.
Guerra-Torres was a citizen of Mexico who split time between California and Clark. He and Sandra Garcia had multiple children together.
Technically, Marquez received a shorter sentence than the 25 to 40 years Pedro Garcia has agreed to accept for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. However, with good behavior, Wyoming inmates typically only serve about two-thirds of their minimum sentence — meaning Pedro Garcia will likely just face more years on parole.
“I believe this a fair agreement given the parties’ involvement,” Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt said of the deal, describing Marquez and Pedro Garcia as the “primary actors.”
Sandra Garcia, 29, received a 10- to 18-year sentence for aiding and abetting manslaughter and being an accessory after the fact to second-degree murder.
In reducing Sandra Garcia’s charge to manslaughter last year, Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric indicated that law enforcement’s understanding of the case had changed since the murder charges were filed in 2015; this week, he declined to elaborate, noting that Pedro Garcia has yet to be sentenced.
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward — whose office led the investigation into Guerra-Torres murder — said after the hearing that, “the story, or their [the defendants’] account, changed every day.”
“It was a twisting case from day one,” Steward added. It took a months-long, multi-agency effort just to identify Guerra-Torres’ headless, handless corpse after it was found on a remote road off Wyo. Highway 294 in Badger Basin.
In court, the three defendants have given only sparse accounts of what happened; Marquez admitted only that he was in Park County and that he fatally shot Guerra-Torres. Prosecutors have said they believe Sandra Garcia brought Guerra-Torres to a pullout off the highway, where Marquez — who was brought to site by Pedro Garcia — shot him.
“There may still be some questions and some speculation as to what exactly happened here,” Devon Petersen, one of Marquez’s court-appointed defense attorneys, said during the hearing. He added that the deal “may not be understood by everyone.”
Petersen said his client made a “terrible choice,” but “I do believe that Mr. Marquez is a man of honor and loyalty and I think that’s really what he believed was motivating him.”
“He never would have done this had he not been incited to and played upon his fears of his family’s safety,” Petersen said. He also said Marquez has a lot of redeeming qualities — describing him as funny, smart, respectful, a model inmate, “a pleasure to be around” and “an honor to represent.”
Marquez technically should not have had a firearm on the night of the murder, as, unlike the Garcias, he has prior felony convictions. His record includes a 1993 child abuse conviction in Park County for hitting an 11-year-old in the face multiple times, court records say. Marquez also received a 46-month federal prison sentence in 2006 for possession of 36 kilograms of marijuana in New Mexico with intent to distribute. He later violated his terms of supervised release by using cocaine and traveling to Mexico without permission (resulting in another eight months of federal prison time in 2010), followed by similar violations and another eight-month sentence in 2011, court records say.
Steward said he supported the deal the prosecution offered to Marquez, though he suspects that, given the gruesome nature of the case, the general feeling in the community will be that the sentence is lenient.
"I think, for me, if you look at the totality and the final product, I mean, we saved a lot of taxpayer money [by avoiding trials], we got people put away and, for me, it’s a great symbol of working together,” Steward said, praising the cooperation between the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, the Cody and Powell police departments, the Wyoming Highway Patrol and other agencies across the nation.
“I think that we took a very little informational case, with very little evidence and proceeded with ... I think, a tremendous case — being able to prosecute three people without having to go to trial,” Steward said.
As a routine part of the proceedings, Judge Cranfill asked Marquez if he was satisfied with his court-appointed lawyers, Devon Petersen and Diane Lozano, the head of the Office of the State Public Defender.
Marquez responded by referencing an old quote about freedom only being for those who can afford it.
“Unfortunately, I cannot afford my freedom,” Marquez told the court, but he said the representation he received from the public defenders exceeded his expectations and that he was “extremely, extremely satisfied.”
Before exiting the courtroom, deputy prosecutor Blatt wished Marquez good luck and Marquez thanked both Blatt and Skoric.
The murder case will officially close when Pedro Garcia is sentenced.