It has been said that timing is everything in life.
It can be everything in death, too.
Depressed and unemployed and living with his parents during his floundering medical career, Anthony Garcia got in a car in the garage of their Walnut, California, home.
He climbed into the driver’s side, turned on the car, left the garage door down and fell asleep — apparently hoping that carbon monoxide would kill him.
Then his brother Fernando Garcia came home. He found Anthony Garcia asleep in the driver’s seat, car running.
Fernando quickly stirred him and opened the garage door to air out the cloud of fumes.
Anthony Garcia drove away. Fernando went upstairs to find all of Anthony’s important documents organized for his family to sort out his affairs.
The year was 2004 or 2005, according to testimony Thursday in day two of Garcia’s death penalty hearing.
A few years later, Garcia would drive to Omaha and kill 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman as vengeance for his 2001 termination from Creighton University Medical Center.
“If his brother hadn’t come home, my mom might still be here today,” said Jeff Sherman, after hearing the testimony in court Thursday. “So would Thomas — and the Brumbacks.”
The garage attempt wasn’t the only suicidal episode. In early 2013, emergency personnel broke down the door of Garcia’s Terre Haute, Indiana, home and found him unconscious and sprawled on the floor, beer cans surrounding him. Next to him: a gun.
Three months later, Garcia again drove to Omaha to kill Mary Brumback and Dr. Roger Brumback, who had fired Garcia in 2001.
Those anecdotes emerged Thursday as Garcia’s attorneys tried to establish that mental illness — fueled by his failure to live up to his parents’ expectations that he become a doctor — drove Garcia to kill the four.
Attorneys Jeff Pickens, Sarah Newell and Todd Lancaster of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy say the pressure placed on Garcia to become a doctor, along with his mental illnesses, should spare him the death penalty.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine says the 10 aggravating factors that apply to Garcia’s crimes far outweigh any mitigating factor. After the hearing, which is expected to conclude Friday, Judges Gary Randall, Russell Bowie and Ricky Schreiner will decide whether Garcia gets life or death.
On Thursday Garcia looked the part of the listless man in the garage. He slumped in the wheelchair that deputies used to force him to court. He even kept his eyes shut as he raised a cup to take a sip of water — by far the most activity he’s displayed over the past two days.
At the noon recess, his mother approached the half-wall between the front of the courtroom and the gallery. Deputies turned Garcia’s wheelchair around. She leaned over and spoke softly to him. Eyes squeezed shut, he put his chin to his chest, his hands cuffed in his lap.
“No response,” Estella Garcia said.
Whether he was paying attention or not, his life was flashing before him Thursday. Newell continued to pound the defense’s theme — that Garcia never should have been a doctor and that his complete incompetence haunted and hounded him.
Start with medical school. University of Utah Medical School officials said they accepted him in part because of his Hispanic ethnicity. After enrollment, he took three years to complete two years of medical school.
He was standoffish, even boorish, with supervising doctors and teachers.
He hurt a woman during a vaginal exam during his clerkship in the gynecological department. The vague medical records indicate that Garcia caused “tears” (as in bleeding) or “tears” (as in crying).
“It’s not clear which,” said psychologist Kirk Newring.
Also not clear: how, after an absolutely awful start and, at best, an average academic career, Garcia became a doctor.
Despite his lackluster grades, Garcia graduated from medical school. He then took the first two parts of his medical licensing test and failed. He retook the tests and passed — barely.
He and his dad then packed his belongings in a van and traveled to upstate New York for his first residency program.
There, his incompetence would be on high-definition display. He yelled at nurses, sometimes declaring, “I’m a real doctor, and you’re not.”
A supervisor, Dr. Walter Wahl, wrote that he once found Garcia sleeping at 1:30 p.m. When they awoke him, Garcia answered in grunts and eye rolls.
“This resident’s lack of knowledge and lack of receptive attitude to teaching and correction is worrisome and needs to be paid close attention,” Wahl wrote.
At one point, Garcia was studying flash cards at the New York hospital. A radiology tech told him that a patient had been waiting for 45 minutes.
Garcia yelled: “Are you done?” Then he went back to his flash cards.
The radiology tech: “Dr. Garcia why are you ignoring me? I was asking you a question.”
Garcia yelled: “Don’t give me your shit.”
After that exchange, Dr. Wahl issued a warning to Garcia.
“You have been noted to ignore direct requests and laugh inappropriately in front of staff and patients,” he said. “I anticipate you may need further referrals and perhaps neuropsychological testing.”
Translation: Wahl wanted him to undergo an evaluation to see if he was fit to practice medicine. Garcia resigned instead.
Soon after, he was hired at Creighton — part of what Pickens described as the continual passing along of Garcia. His misdeeds at Creighton have been well documented: badmouthing a longtime doctor, mistreating a body during an autopsy and sabotaging a fellow resident’s medical exams.
Hunter and Brumback fired him in May 2001. He then went to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he would last the longest but take several leaves of absence.
He said his departures were for migraines; they were for mental illness. He would be hospitalized at least three times after describing suicidal and homicidal thoughts in 2002.
Kirk Newring — a psychologist hired by the defense to extensively study Garcia’s life — said Garcia was vague in his description of his homicidal ideas. But, Newring said, the context indicates that it’s likely that he was talking about his Creighton colleagues.
After completing aggressive electroshock therapy for his depression, a doctor at the University of Illinois told Garcia that he needed to go through a mental evaluation before returning. Again, Garcia resigned.
He eventually ended up at Louisiana State University — until he was fired from that job for failing to report his termination from Creighton.
Despite failing out of four residency programs, Garcia ended up with a medical license in Illinois.
“I don’t know,” Newring said. “He was set up to fail.”