Tire iron, texts led police to murder arrest

Martin Mason Garcia accused of killing Curtis Stapleton

After Martin Mason Garcia told investigators his co-worker died in a drunken fall the night of July 3, Morgan Hill Police used a search warrant to obtain text messages and a tire iron, with a hair stuck to it, that led to his arrest on suspicion of murder, according to Garcia’s court file.

Garcia, 30, of Watsonville, was arrested by Morgan Hill Police and federal marshals Oct. 2. He is charged with the murder of Curtis Stapleton, 27, of Sunnyvale, the night of July 3. The death took place outside Fet Test on Concord Circle in Morgan Hill, where both the victim and suspect had been employed, according to police.

Martin Mason Garcia

The co-workers had been picketing with other members of their union earlier in the day, according to police reports contained in the case’s court file. After the protest, Garcia, Stapleton and some other co-workers went to the bar Strixe at Tennant Station for “a few drinks.”

Morgan Hill Police were called about 9:39pm July 3 by another co-worker, who reported Stapleton was lying unresponsive on the sidewalk on Concord Circle, near Garcia’s truck. Garcia was at the scene when police arrived. Garcia told arriving officers he and Stapleton had returned from Strixe when Stapleton “collapsed” and fell face down on the concrete while trying to enter his vehicle, according to the police reports.

Curtis Stapleton

Garcia told police he tried to wake Stapleton up, but he was unconscious, according to police. He said Stapleton had been unresponsive for about 20 minutes by the time police arrived.

Stapleton’s body was lying partially on the sidewalk and partially in the roadway, with his feet under Garcia’s pickup truck, according to the first arriving officer’s report. There was a pool of blood near Stapleton’s head, and blood covering the right side of his face. The officer noted it appeared Stapleton’s body had been moved after he was injured.

Police and an investigator from the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office pronounced Stapleton dead at 9:56pm, according to police. A coroner’s report noted that Stapleton suffered blunt force trauma to his head, but the injuries were not consistent with a typical fall, according to the court file. Facial injuries included swelling, bruises and cuts. Stapleton also had cuts and bruises on his leg and the knuckles of his left hand.

The coroner’s report concluded that Stapleton had died from “head injuries in the setting of acute alcohol intoxication,” and that the manner of death was homicide.

Garcia had also told police that Stapleton might have been in a fight inside Strixe when he briefly left his group of co-workers to use the bathroom. However, Strixe employees told investigators they were unaware of any such altercation, and security video footage from inside the bar didn’t depict any physical violence, according to the police reports. Other Fet Test co-workers who were at the bar at the same time told police they did not witness any fighting at Strixe.

Evidence suggests different story

Police obtained a search warrant for Garcia’s Verizon cell phone records. These records show that Garcia and his girlfriend exchanged a series of suspicious text messages the night of July 3, according to police. Garcia texted the woman, “They will take me in” and “He tried to jump me.” Garcia’s girlfriend texted back, “Lay him on his side” followed by “So he won’t choke.”

Another message from Garcia’s girlfriend to Garcia suggested the suspect might have sent her a photo of Stapleton’s lifeless body. “Send the pic again,” the woman texted about 9:18pm July 3, according to the police reports.

During a search of Garcia’s truck, police found a tire iron with a strand of hair stuck to it, according to the police reports. The investigation reports in the court file do not conclude to whom the strand of hair belonged.

Also found in Garcia’s truck was a box cutter “with a red-brown stain consistent with blood.” The search of the vehicle took place July 5, while it remained at the scene of the July 3 death.

Police find marijuana in vehicle

For several days following the July 3 death, Garcia stopped going to work and did not call in sick, and he “refused to contact any co-workers/friends,” reads a police report of the investigation.

Nothing in the police reports suggests that Garcia and Stapleton had any kind of conflict before Stapleton’s death was reported. The reports do not offer a motive for the alleged murder.

Also contained in the case file is a list of contents found by police in Garcia’s truck and Stapleton’s Acura. Inside one of the vehicles, investigators found marijuana paraphernalia and more than 36 grams of marijuana in a backpack. The list does not clarify in which vehicle the marijuana and paraphernalia were found.

In addition to murder, Garcia is also charged with personal use of a deadly weapon. He remains in custody at Santa Clara County Jail in lieu of $6 million bail. Garcia’s next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Morgan Hill Courthouse.

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