By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Arraignments were set Wednesday in Seward County District Court for four suspects arrested in the alleged carjacking of a Liberal man’s vehicle at gunpoint in January.
Prosecutor Russell Hasenbank and the attorneys for Juan D. Garza, 26, of Garden City, Jose Gil of Dodge City, Bobby Stensland, 19, of Dodge City, and Matthew Perez, 27, of Garden City, questioned several key witnesses and the victim of the incident, Hector Motta, 34.
The lead investigator, detective Russell Almes of the Liberal Police Department, took the stand at Wednesday’s preliminary hearing several times in regards to the alleged crime.
Almes said, according to an interview Feb. 1 with Gil, the incident began Jan. 10 when Garza and his wife showed up at Perez’s house, where Perez, Gil and Stensland were drinking. Garza said he needed money.
Almes alleged Gil said one of the group said they had wanted to go to Liberal to “do some dirt.” When asked what that meant, Gil said jacking a car.
Almes testified Gil said the group left in his mother’s black Suburban to go to Liberal and that Garza had a gun. They allegedly went to a taco stand in the 400 block of South Kansas, and Stensland and Garza got out of the car.
Almes next said the group went up to a red vehicle, identified as a Chevy Extreme Blazer. They talked to the driver and got into the vehicle. Almes said Gil told him the plan was to jack it.
Gil told Almes he was unsure of what was said between Garza, Stensland and the driver at that point, but the two suspects got into the vehicle and drove to an open field on East Oak in Liberal.
Almes said he was told the victim, who is wheelchair bound, was left at the scene.
Hasenbank and the defense attorneys in the case also questioned Garza’s cell mate, Shawn Smith, about a conversation he had with Garza about the incident. Smith had been interviewed at an earlier date by Almes, a conversation later played.
Wednesday in court, initially, Smith said he did not recall the conversation, saying he only remembered speaking to an officer within the last 60 days.
In the interview with Almes, Smith said Garza said the suspects had threatened to kill the victim, and Smith identified the gun as a 9-mm.
When questioned, Smith said he was unaware that the interview with Almes was being recorded, but he did say after watching the interview, he recalled the conversation.
Motta, who spoke through an interpreter, was likewise questioned about the alleged incident. He said he first went to the taco stand to purchase some tacos. When he arrived there, some men got into his vehicle and assaulted him with a pistol.
Motta next said he told the men he could not walk, but one of them told him to drive a couple of blocks. He said when he saw the pistol pointing at him, he knew it was serious.
Before he started driving, Motta said one of the men came to the driver’s side of the vehicle with a pistol, and another went to the passenger side with some type of unidentified weapon.
Motta said he was told to drive. He took two right turns before driving straight to an isolated area, where he was told to get out. He said a Suburban followed his vehicle to the area.
When they arrived at the scene, Motta said he was grabbed by his coat and pulled out of the vehicle. He said he was then thrown to the ground and told to cover his face and look down to the ground.
Motta said the suspects then asked for his cell phone and wallet, which he said were taken from him. His wheelchair was left in the vehicle.
Motta said the suspects then took the Suburban and his vehicle, and he was the only person left at the location. He said he dragged himself to the road and sat there for 30 minutes before somebody arrived. He also said he sustained scrapes on his legs from the crawl, but no other injuries.
Motta’s Blazer was recovered in Finney County on Jan. 11, and Wednesday, the alleged victim said he found missing rims, tires, stereo equipment and his wheel chair. The wallet, according to Motta, was also recovered except for some money. The cell phone and wheel chair were not recovered.
In his closing statement, Hasenbank said the issue was to determine if the four suspects were the people that committed the alleged crimes and if the alleged crimes were indeed committed.
He said evidence exists to confer the story, particularly from the suspects themselves, and despite inconsistent stories, the same individuals keep popping up.
Judge Paula Sosa said the state had proven probable cause on a vehicle burglary charge against Stensland, Gil and Garza, and she ordered them bound over on that charge.
She also bound over all four suspects on charges of aggravated kidnapping, felony theft, aggravated robbery and aggravated assault. Sosa, however, dropped a charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, which she said occurred in Finney County.
Arraignments for Stensland, Gil, Garza and Perez are set for July 29 in Seward County District Court.
The men are allegedly involved in the incident that occurred about 8:20 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10, when officers responded to the 200 block of South Virginia in Liberal for a reported carjacking.
The 34-year-old handicapped victim told investigating officers he was at a taco stand in the 400 block of South Kansas Avenue about an hour earlier when two Hispanic males, with bandannas covering their faces, got out of a large black SUV and got into his red 2001 Chevy Blazer.
The men ordered him to drive while they held him at gunpoint. The victim was directed to a field in the 500 block of East Oak where the men pushed him out of the vehicle and drove away. The victim had to crawl back through the field to the roadway to summon help.
The four men were arrested between Jan. 29 and March 1 by authorities in Ford and Finney counties, according to a statement from Liberal Police Capt. Pat McClurg.