Five years before he killed 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman, Anthony Garcia told doctors he wanted to kill co-workers and himself, according to filings in his death penalty case.
In January 2003 — five years before the brutal stabbing deaths of Hunter and Sherman — Garcia was admitted to the Little Company of Mary hospital in Illinois. Garcia told doctors there that he had wanted to die by suicide the previous day. He said he had been taking medication for mental health problems, but the medicine had not helped. He later would go through electroshock therapy.
“He was admitted for suicidal ideation and depression,” his attorney, Jeff Pickens, wrote in court filings. “Defendant further stated that in 2002 he experienced homicidal ideation and ‘people at work’ were his intended victims.”
It’s not clear whether Garcia, who was fired from Creighton University in 2001, was talking about his former Creighton colleagues when he mentioned wanting to kill “people at work” in 2002. But the homicidal talk further buttresses evidence that Garcia bore a festering grudge over his firing from Creighton University Medical Center.
Garcia made good on those threats on March 13, 2008: He returned to Omaha to kill Sherman and Hunter, the house cleaner and son of Garcia’s former boss, Dr. William Hunter. In May 2013, Garcia returned to Omaha to kill the other Creighton doctor who fired him, Dr. Roger Brumback, and Brumback’s wife, Mary.
Now, a three-judge panel must decide whether Garcia should receive the death penalty for the vengeful stabbings of the four.
Beginning Wednesday, Judges Gary Randall and Russell Bowie of Douglas County and Ricky Schreiner of southeast Nebraska will listen to any mitigating circumstances that might weigh against imposing the death penalty. The sentence likely won’t be announced for a month or two.
The jurors who convicted Garcia already found evidence of several aggravating circumstances that, jurors determined, could lead him to receive the death penalty.
But this week’s hearing will be all about Garcia — though it’s not clear that Garcia will attend.
The last time the 45-year-old former doctor appeared in court was during his quadruple-murder trial 18 months ago. He refused to leave his jail cell to attend the past two hearings, and hasn’t spoken to his attorneys in two years.
Garcia’s attorneys, with the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, have indicated that they will present evidence of Garcia’s mental illness as a possible mitigator.
Among the witnesses who may be called: Garcia’s mother, Estella Garcia; brother Fernando Garcia; and a psychiatrist and psychologist who have evaluated Garcia.
Pickens, head of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, indicated that he’ll plunge into Garcia’s mental health from his early 20s all the way until Garcia received treatment at the Lincoln Regional Center, pending trial.
“From reviewing the many records that have been made available ... it is apparent that defendant has suffered from mental illness since at least his early 20s,” Pickens wrote.
Garcia was released from the Illinois hospital 10 days later, only to return the next month. In March 2003, he underwent “electroshock therapy after being admitted for suicidal thoughts and excessive alcohol intoxication,” Pickens wrote.
Whatever therapy he received didn’t last, if it worked at all. When he was arrested for the murders, Garcia reeked of alcohol. Inside his car: a gun, hatchet and a Louisiana State University lab coat. Authorities allege he was on his way to exact revenge at LSU — another medical school where he had been fired.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said prosecutors filed for the death penalty because they believe the facts support it.
“We think the evidence supports a finding that if the state is going to have a death penalty as a punishment, this is a case that deserves that,” Kleine said.
Kleine said members of Hunter’s family will attend, as will members of Sherman’s. The Brumbacks’ three adult children have declined to attend any of Garcia’s court proceedings, other than to testify at trial.
“They just said, ‘I don’t want my memories of my mom and dad to be about the way they were murdered or the end of their life,’ ” Kleine said. “They want to remember them as the great parents they were.”
Sherman’s brother, Brad Waite, said he is looking forward to the case finally ending. It has been nearly 1,800 days since Garcia was charged in the case and nearly 600 days since he was convicted.
Waite noted that Garcia inflicted numerous stab wounds on the necks of the victims as the former pathology student poked around for their jugular veins. Even Roger Brumback, who was shot, endured repeated slashes.
“I just hope people keep in mind that these folks were totally innocent,” Waite said. “They did nothing to deserve what Garcia did to them.”