Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Salih Abdul-Haqq Zaid stares ahead blankly after being sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Arizona Court of Appeals has overturned his conviction and has called for a new trial.
New trial ordered for convicted killer Salih Abdul-Haqq Zaid
By Jon Johnson
PHOENIX – The Arizona Court of Appeals has granted Salih Abdul-Haqq Zaid’s appeal regarding a ruling during his trial for the murder of Jared Michael Garcia, 35, on April 26, 2017, and has reversed his convictions and sentences. Zaid had been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
While the original guilty verdict has been reversed, the outcome could either help Zaid or potentially actually hurt him if he is convicted of a more serious offense on retrial.
Before the trial began, then Graham County Superior Court Judge Corey D. Sanders granted Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett’s motion to preclude Zaid’s attorney, Dennis McCarthy, from presenting evidence of Garcia’s prior violent acts and reputation for violence. The Gila Herald pointed out both men’s previous history of assaults in an article prior to the start of the trial (Zaid murder trial set to begin jury selection – Gila Herald March 5, 2018) and advised that Garcia’s assaults had typically been bar fights and Zaid’s assaults had been misdemeanors.
On Monday night, the Arizona Court of Appeals published a ruling that Judge Sanders had erred in not allowing Garcia’s history to be presented as evidence and advised the error was not harmless as it could have been used to support Zaid’s assertion of acting in self-defense.
“Because the trial court erred in precluding Zaid from presenting reputation and opinion evidence of the victim’s violent character, and we cannot conclude that the error was harmless, we reverse Zaid’s convictions and sentences and remand for a new trial,” the ruling stated.
After a two-week trial and nearly two full days of deliberation, a jury found Zaid guilty March 20, 2018, of manslaughter, two counts of aggravated assault, endangerment, disorderly conduct with a weapon, and unlawfully discharging a weapon within city limits. The jury acquitted Zaid on a charge of murder in the first degree, and could not agree on a charge of murder in the second degree.
On May 15, 2018, Judge Sanders came out of retirement to sentence Zaid to 15 years in prison for his manslaughter charge. Judge Sanders also sentenced Zaid to 10 years on each aggravated assault charge, 2.5 years for endangerment, 2.5 years for disorderly conduct with a weapon, and 1.5 years for unlawfully discharging a weapon within city limits. All of the charges were deemed to run concurrent (at the same time) however, and do not add any time to the largest, 15-year sentence.
With being eligible for early release of one day for every seven served, Zaid’s sentence should have kept him incarcerated until 2030. At the time, Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett had argued for the maximum sentence of 21 years, while Zaid’s attorney, Dennis McCarthy, had argued for the minimum sentence of 4 years.
McCarthy had argued that the shooting was justified self-defense, but during interrogation by police Zaid seemingly admitted that he had committed the act out of revenge for being “punked” earlier in the night at the Bull Pen bar. The shooting occurred after Zaid had left the premises, appeared to return to his residence, and, according to the prosecution, retrieved his AK-47 assault rifle. Zaid then returned to the Bull Pen bar and the night ended with him shooting Garcia in the parking lot.
Witness testimony also advised that Zaid did not have the AK-47 in his truck when he was initially at the bar. The witnesses advised Zaid had shown them his sound system in his truck earlier and that things only turned after Zaid instigated an altercation by using a racial epithet toward the Hispanic Garcia. After the incident, Zaid was told to leave by bar employees.
Upon his return, however, witnesses advised Zaid lured the men out to his truck, where he retrieved the AK-47 and shot Garcia as Garcia held up his hands and turned to run. After being caught, police located the AK-47 in Zaid’s truck, along with four high-capacity magazines that each held approximately 40 rounds, according to court transcripts.
Zaid’s attorney said his client acted in self-defense from hostile bar patrons. Despite being offered a plea deal for manslaughter that offered a range of 7 to 13 years, Zaid rejected the deal and was ultimately convicted of manslaughter and was given a sentence of 15 years. At the start of the trial, prosecutors even advised the court that they would have settled the case if the defendant would have taken a plea deal for 7 to 10.5 years.
With the likelihood of a new trial, however, Zaid could have a different verdict. That verdict could either be in his favor for acquittal, or go against if a new jury agrees on a higher verdict, such as murder in the second degree, and he could actually end up with even more time behind bars after winning his appeal. Because he was acquitted on the charge of murder in the first degree, he cannot be found guilty on that charge.
“This is such a sad, sad case,” McCarthy previously said in court.