Thursday, March 23, 2023
March 23, 2023

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Murder charge dropped in death of woman left outside in frigid cold for hours


KENNEWICK — Murder charges have been dropped against a Pasco man accused of letting a woman die in the cold instead of calling an ambulance.

It’s the latest twist in a case that already has resulted in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office being ordered to pay a $1,000 sanction, and the suspect being arrested and released — twice.

Joe Cruz Garza was formally charged in January in connection with the death of Breanna Gooldy, 24, in November.

But days later, prosecutors asked to drop the charges because they want to wait for the medical examiner’s report, and they weren’t likely to get it before they were required by law to hold a trial.

Instead, Prosecutor Shawn Sant said at hearing last week that they wanted to retract the charges for now but be allowed to refile them later, depending on the outcome of that report.

But Garza’s defense attorney Charles Dow objected, saying his client already has faced unnecessary delays after prosecutors failed to turn over evidence on time.

He argued this could turn into another delay and put Garza’s defense attorneys at a disadvantage.

Still, Superior Court Judge Norma Rodriguez agreed to allow prosecutors to leave open the possibility that the charges could be refiled in the future, but told prosecutors they must turn over the report as soon as they make the decision.

November death

Garza and Gooldy had a troubled relationship and the 56-year-old Garza was ordered by the court Oct. 17 to stay away from her, according to court documents.

But witnesses said it wasn’t long before Goodly was staying at his travel trailer behind a Pasco convenience store.

A witness reported that two days before she died, Garza had hit Gooldy in the face, injuring her. She allegedly told a witness that Garza was mean, and he was going to kill her, according to court documents.

On Nov. 5, Garza claims Gooldy was “tripping” inside his trailer. She began breaking things before crawling outside. He claims she hurt herself in the process.

He said he tried to get her to come back inside but she fought him off. Another man told police he tried to help Garza bring her inside but they couldn’t move her.

The men put a blanket over her and left her outside. Security camera footage shows Garza go outside several times between 1:30 a.m. and 6:20 a.m. on Nov. 6, according to court documents.

When Gooldy stopped responding to him and felt cold to the touch, he called 911.

He told investigators he waited to call for help because he didn’t want to go to jail for violating the court order.

Police found her wrapped in two “extremely” damp blankets and a curtain and her body temperature had dropped to near 70 degrees. She died at the hospital 11 hours later.

Charges and delays

After Gooldy died, Garza was initially arrested for violating the protection order.

The autopsy determined that her injuries didn’t cause her death so Pasco police said they believed Garza should be charged with manslaughter.

In the meantime, his attorney argued that Garza should be allowed to be released without bail, saying most of his convictions were old and non-violent offenses, such as drug possession and car theft.

However, Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny argued at the time that Garza had 69 convictions over the years and judges needed to issue many warrants to get him to court.

But it was the prosecution’s delay in turning over evidence to the defense that led Superior Court Judge Diana Ruff to release Garza.

Garza had been in jail since early November and it was just eight days before his trial on the protection order violation was set to begin when prosecutors turned over the evidence they planned to present.

On Jan. 9, four days after Garza was released from jail, prosecutors charged him with murder and he was rearrested.

Three days later on Jan. 12, prosecutors asked to pull back the murder charge but with the option to refile it, and Garza was released from jail again.

But it wasn’t until Jan. 26, that Sant and Dow appeared before Judge Rodriguez to argue their points.

“We cannot dismiss without prejudice when there is an actual prejudice,” Dow argued. “We do not do trial by ambush.”

But Sant told the judge that his office plans to change how and when documents are handed over to defense attorneys so the issue doesn’t happen again in the future.