Paul D. Cramm

Fingerprint Match Jails Innocent Man

Wrong Garcia is jailed for manslaughter when fingerprints match

The Kansas City Star

Usually, when fingerprints match, you think you have your man.

Tell that to Adalberto Izaquierdo Garcia of Mexico. The 36-year-old stood in line to legally enter the United States just before Christmas to attend the funeral of his recently deceased mother.

Instead, he was arrested on an outstanding Jackson County manslaughter warrant in a crime that now even prosecutors concede he didn’t commit.

In fact, he’d never been in Missouri.

Were it not for some long-kept DNA, he might have remained here in prison for much of the rest of his life.

“No doubt that mistakes like this are rare,” said Kansas City attorney Henri Watson of Watson & Dameron, the firm called by the Mexican consul to help the baffled mourner. “It’s the first time in 42 years I’ve heard about anything like this.”

The tale begins on July 20, 1997. That’s when a different Garcia — Alberto A. Garcia, who coincidentally was born on Aug. 16, the same day and same month, but three years later than Adalberto Garcia — was indeed in a car accident in Jackson County that ended up taking the life of his passenger.

Just before midnight, Alberto Garcia of 313 Myrtle Ave. in Kansas City was throttling down St. John’s Avenue at 80 mph when his black ’89 Chevy careened out of control. It crashed into a Ford van before plowing into a wood light pole near Drury Avenue.

Garcia wasn’t seriously injured. But Pablo Carrillo, the 20-year-old passenger in his car, was killed.

At Truman Medical Center, nurses drew Garcia’s blood and collected urine to be tested for drugs and alcohol, which showed that Garcia was drinking. He had a .04 blood alcohol level, half the legal limit, and wasn’t drunk. Still, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the first degree and let out on $15,000 bond.

It wasn’t until 2008, however, that Garcia was arrested and fingerprinted, and his repeatedly delayed case finally came up for a trial hearing. By the time he was due to show up in court, Alberto Garcia was gone. The court issued a warrant for his arrest.

Fast forward to Dec. 11, 2012, when the wife of a grieving Adalberto Garcia dropped off her husband at the legal border crossing point between Mexico and the U.S. outside Laredo, Texas.

Adalberto Garcia works as a laborer in a Mexican city along the border. He had been to the U.S. before and had crossed over illegally. He was caught in Texas several years ago and sent back. But on this occasion he was coming to attend the funeral of his mother, who at 63 had died in Texas.

“He has his cellphone,” said Watson, the attorney. “He gets out of the car. He goes over to the American side, goes to the office to request a humanitarian visa. He surrenders his documents, his identity papers. He told them why he wanted to come in.

“But his wife is noticing that it is taking an unusually long time. … They had taken all of his documents and were running his fingerprints.”

It’s a common and standard precaution.

“A couple of minutes later,” Watson said, “he had been taken into custody on a warrant out of here (Jackson County).”

Within days, he was sitting in Missouri behind bars in an orange jumpsuit. The fingerprints matched.

For six weeks, Watson worked to unwind the truth. He was hired by the Mexican Consulate. He had help from a public defender and the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.

Was this Adalberto Garcia the same man as Alberto Garcia?

The family insisted absolutely not. No way.

In jail, Adalberto Garcia insisted to authorities they “have the wrong man.”

Still, the fingerprints matched. The birthdays, if not the actual birth date, were the same.

Back in Mexico, Adalberto’s wife gathered alibi documents — voter registrations and work pay slips to prove that Adalberto Garcia was living and working in Mexico on the same dates Alberto Garcia was in Missouri.

Watson contacted Alberto Garcia’s former lawyer to compare photos of the two men. Although similar, they did not look the same.

Then a problem: a court-ordered double-check of fingerprints. Again, they looked alike.

Watson said he had no clear explanation as to why.

Fingerprints are reliable, but they’re not genes. Fingerprints are identified using matches of different points along the circular swirls.

“There is a lot of controversy as to whether fingerprints are truly accurate,” said Watson’s law partner, Russ Dameron. “Interpretations can be very subjective.”

Did authorities in Texas have the right fingerprints on file? Maybe years ago when Adalberto Garcia got caught for crossing from Mexico into the U.S., authorities took his fingerprints and mistakenly attached them to a file of Alberto Garcia from Kansas City.

The names were so similar. The birthdays are largely the same.

In Kansas City, the prints were from five years ago — not exactly fresh.

Then, on Jan. 25, a judge ordered an analysis comparing blood taken after the accident against Adalberto’s DNA. The results came back last Monday.

Eureka! Science. They had the wrong guy.

Adalberto Izaquierdo Garcia missed his mother’s funeral. He missed Christmas and New Year’s with his wife and three children.

On Friday, he was flown by federal authorities back to Texas on his way home to Mexico.

“The only thing that sustained him is the knowledge that he was not the right person,” Watson said. “He never had any doubt about that. He was absolutely clear about that.”

Jackson County authorities are relieved.

“Basically, we’re just happy there’s not the wrong person in custody anymore,” said Brady Twenter, assistant Jackson County prosecutor. “We only want to prosecute the right people.”

Twenter also said that having a partial DNA profile on file will help in identifying and finding the Kansas Citian on whom there is still an active warrant.

Meantime, has anyone seen the real Alberto Garcia?

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About the Author

This practice has been exclusively devoted to all levels of criminal defense from misdemeanor offenses in municipal court to felony matters in the Federal courts of Kansas and the Western District of Missouri. Paul D. Cramm is qualified to provide defense in Capital and Death Penalty cases.