Judge Finds Probable Cause in Homicide Case

DC Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee found probable cause in a 2021 homicide case after testimony from the lead detective at a July 7 preliminary hearing. 

Alvin Alexis Cruz-Garcia, 24, is charged with second-degree murder in connection to the March 23, 2021, murder of 38-year-old Ramon Gomez-Yanez. According to court documents, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) responded to reports of an unconscious person at approximately 8:50 p.m. on the 1500 block of Ogden Street, NW. An autopsy later revealed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and neck. 

“This homicide is on video,” the prosecution said. “There’s no question what happened.” 

The footage appears to show Gomez-Yanez sitting in his vehicle from the time he parked at 7:50 p.m. to the time he exited the vehicle and entered the convenience store at 8:23 p.m. Three minutes later, the suspect, wearing red shoes with white soles and a Washington Nationals baseball cap, appears to approach and urinate near Gomez-Yanez’s vehicle. 

Gomez-Yanez is then seen exiting the store with two cans of beer and approaches the suspect. Although there is no audio, Gomez-Yanez and the defendant appear to have a conversation before the suspect punches the victim in the face, causing him to fall to the ground. 

The detective stated that MPD could not identify the suspect directly from the crime scene footage. MPD did, however, review surveillance footage that appeared to show the suspect, who was wearing the distinctive red and white shoes and Washington Nationals hat, exit Columbia Heights Metro Station at 8:13 p.m. on the evening of the incident. 

The witness said MPD was then able to determine the unique number of the suspect’s SmartTrip metro card and track its movement throughout the city. The detective testified that he reviewed footage of the suspect, wearing the same distinctive hat and shoes, on the metro around the time of the homicide. 

According to the detective, one of the videos recovered from video surveillance depicted the suspect, who was wearing the same hat and shoes, rent a Lime scooter outside of the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro Station. The witness reviewed data records sent by Lime, which revealed the account used to rent the scooter was registered under Cruz-Garcia’s name. 

The detective testified that MPD responded to an address associated with Cruz-Garcia, where officers encountered another witness, who identified the suspect as Cruz-Garcia when shown screenshots taken from metro video surveillance. The witness also identified themself from footage depicting other individuals using the same SmartTrip card and referred to Cruz-Garcia as a family member. 

During cross-examination, defense attorney Kevann Gardner attempted to elicit that the murder was committed in self-defense, saying “the decedent was clearly the aggressor.”

The detective testified that Gomez-Yanez’s blood-alcohol level was higher than the legal limit to drive at the time of his death and there was a visible knife clipped to the victim’s waistband. 

The detective also said another witness observed Gomez-Yanez on the phone in the convenience store. According to the detective, the witness told him that, although he did not speak Spanish, Gomez-Yanez seemed angry while on the phone.

“[Gomez-Yanez] is not only bigger, stronger, drunk and upset, he is armed, armed with a knife,” Gardner said. “The decedent walked around the vehicle to confront Mr. Cruz-Garcia. He did that because he wanted trouble… their noses were touching.”

“[Cruz-Garcia] had every reason to fear for his life,” he said. “There is a good self-defense case here.”

Judge Lee rejected the self-defense argument, saying the issue of direct identification from the footage of the crime would inform his decision. 

“This really is a case about identification,” Judge Lee said. “I don’t have any evidence on the record about an imminent threat.

“There is no indication that he used [the knife],” Judge Lee continued.

“The government has not made an identification that arises to probable cause that pertains to Mr. Cruz-Garcia,” Gardner said, explaining that only one witness identified the defendant from surveillance footage and that witness did so from footage of the metro and not from the crime scene.

In rebuttal, the prosecution insisted that the particularity of the Washington Nationals hat and the red shoes with the white soles in all surveillance footage was sufficient evidence to identify the defendant. 

“This is a case where best evidence would not be the best way to characterize it,” the prosecutor said. “It would be a connecting of dots that all point to Mr. Cruz-Garcia committing the murder.”

Referencing the close relationship of a witness to Cruz-Garcia and the supplemental evidence of the linkage of Cruz-Garcia’s name to the rented Lime scooter, Judge Lee ruled that the identification was “sufficient for probable cause” and ruled that the case had enough evidence to move to trial. 

The prosecutor asked that Cruz-Garcia be detained while awaiting trial. 

“The decedent’s arms were by his side when the defendant punched him and he fell to the ground,” the prosecutor said. “When he falls, there are no attempts to get up… [Cruz-Garcia] braces himself against the car to make his kicks stronger, more accurate. It’s that methodical assault, the malice, the conduct that shows part of his nature to the court of what he is capable of… that is an extreme concern for the community.”

The prosecution also raised concerns that Cruz-Garcia would flee the country if released. Cruz-Garcia was apprehended on May 13 by U.S. Border Patrol in Douglas, Ariz. and was extradited to Washington, D.C. on June 7 to fulfill the outstanding DC Superior Court arrest warrant for homicide. 

“[Cruz-Garcia] left the U.S. soon after the homicide,” the prosecution said. “Your honor can infer that he fled and then re-entered illegally.” 

Veronica Guerrero, Cruz-Garcia’s immigration defense attorney, clarified that Cruz-Garcia is not charged with illegal re-entry.

“He did not know he was being charged with a crime,” Guerrero said. “He went to go see his dying Grandma. I don’t think he should be penalized for being a caring grandson.”

The defense requested that Cruz-Garcia be released under the High Intensity Supervision Program because he has no prior criminal history, but Judge Lee fervently rejected that idea in favor of detention, citing his concerns that Cruz-Garcia is a flight risk.

“Not a chance,” Judge Lee said. “How do I assure his appearance in court since he seems to freely leave the country through irregular channels? There’s no way to keep him from leaving the country. GPS will never solve that problem.”

Cruz-Garcia is scheduled for a felony status conference on Oct. 28.