Anthony Garcia's Internet searches were among the most damning evidence used to build the first-degree murder case against him, an Omaha police detective testified Wednesday.
DNA evidence and a police interview with a stripper also helped point detectives to Garcia, a former Creighton University pathology resident, in the 2008 killings of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and house cleaner Shirlee Sherman, and the May 12 deaths of Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife, Mary.
Douglas County Judge Darryl Lowe, based in part on that testimony, ruled Wednesday that prosecutors have enough evidence to justify trying Garcia on four counts of first-degree murder.
The judge also denied a request from Garcia's defense attorneys to try the 2008 slayings of Thomas and Sherman separately from the Brumbacks' deaths.
Police and prosecutors have described Garcia as a doctor with a festering grudge fueled each time he was denied a medical license or a job because of his 2001 firing from Creighton.
Drs. Brumback and William Hunter, Thomas' father, had fired Garcia for unprofessional conduct toward a fellow resident. They had attested to the firing a number of times when Garcia submitted applications to state medical boards or medical facilities.
According to Detective Derek Mois, Garcia on May 10 searched online for the address of another Creighton pathologist with whom Garcia had run-ins, Dr. Chhanda Bewtra. On May 12, Bewtra's home was broken into while she was away.
Mois said forensic evidence potentially placed Garcia at Bewtra's house that day, which is also the day that the Brumbacks were killed. A test on the door to Bewtra's house doesn't exclude Garcia as the source of a fingerprint or DNA sample found there, he said.
The legal parlance “doesn't exclude” means that the DNA is likely a match with Garcia, said Dr. Monte Miller, a DNA specialist from Riverside, Calif., in an interview with The World-Herald. However, the test cannot show with absolute certainty that the DNA does match Garcia's, he said.
Garcia's defense team pointed out under cross-examination that prosecutors don't have DNA evidence linking him to either the 2008 or 2013 homicide scene.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine addressed that after Wednesday's court hearing.
With a killer trying to conceal his identity, Kleine said, “there might be reasons you wouldn't find DNA.”
Bewtra could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But according to Mois, Garcia was “quite displeased” with what he perceived as Bewtra's treatment of him at Creighton and had “blown up” at her during a conference.
“They didn't want him at Creighton anymore,” Mois said.
Mois testified that shortly after the 2:15 p.m. attempted break-in at Bewtra's house, a credit card statement showed that Garcia stopped to eat at a Wingstop restaurant about a mile from her home. While there, he searched for Roger Brumback's address from his iPhone, Mois said.
The Brumbacks were last seen while video chatting with their daughter that afternoon.
Bob Motta, one of Garcia's lawyers, attacked the state's theory that Garcia was bent on revenge after Hunter and Brumback had fired him. Hunter had written a letter of recommendation for Garcia in July 2001, just days after Garcia's dismissal, Motta said.
Among the comments that Hunter made in the letter: “Dr. Garcia is a hard worker and is relocating for personal reasons.”
Six days after that letter, Motta pointed out, the University of Illinois-Chicago offered Garcia a residency.
“With respect to any kind of revenge theory, in light of the fact that these letters are in existence, it's reasonable to believe he wouldn't harbor any animosity?” Motta asked.
“It's possible,” Detective Mois said.
Kleine said both Hunter and Brumback had written numerous letters over the next 12 years confirming Garcia's dismissal from the Creighton residency program. And Hunter in 2008 had talked to Louisiana State University officials before LSU fired Garcia, calling him a “weak resident.”
Sixteen days later, Thomas and Sherman were dead.
Four years later, on Sept. 19, 2012, Brumback sent a letter to an Indiana medical licensing board detailing Garcia's rotations during his stay at Creighton. Brumback noted that Garcia was involved in an incident that the program felt was unprofessional behavior toward a fellow resident.
The following May, Brumback and his wife were preparing for the doctor's impending retirement and their move to West Virginia. Daughter Audrey Brumback, a doctor in San Francisco, had just spoken to them via the FaceTime application on the Brumbacks' iPad.
When their bodies were found two days later inside their home at 11421 Shirley St., they were in the same clothes they were wearing when they talked to their daughter, Mois said.
After the Brumback killings, detectives combed through files of residents and faculty in the Creighton University department of pathology. Garcia stood out after detectives discovered that he was one of only about five residents fired from the program since 2001.
Mois said Garcia had hoped to woo a bad-boy-loving stripper last year by telling her that he had “killed a small boy and an old lady.” Mois said Garcia wanted to date the stripper.
He watched her dance at two strip clubs — 6th Avenue Dancers and Club Koyote in Terre Haute, Ind. — several times a week, spending about $150 a night on her, the detective said.
Then Garcia started seeing her outside of her work. But the stripper didn't want to date him. She tried to put him off by claiming to go only for “bad boys.”
Mois said Garcia told her that he wasn't as good as she thought and that he had killed the boy and the woman. Garcia told the stripper that he had to do it but that they didn't deserve it, Mois said.
The stripper had dismissed Garcia's claims at the time, but she came forward after she learned of his arrest July 15 in southern Illinois, according to Mois.
“We've known all along that someday, somebody was going to brag (about the killings),” Sherman's brother, Brad Waite of Omaha, said Wednesday. “What he said, he said.”
Other evidence linking the two double homicides, according to Mois, included:
>> All four victims had similar multiple stab wounds to the right side of their necks, although Roger Brumback was also shot. It was also determined that knives used in the attacks were from the victims' homes and left at the scene.
>> All four victims also had been cut across their necks. In the case of Sherman and Thomas Hunter, the knives were left stuck in their necks.
>> In May of this year, Roger Brumback died from a gunshot wound to the right abdomen, but he also had multiple stab wounds to the right side of the neck — as did his wife.
Mois also testified Wednesday that an autopsy showed that Roger Brumback had gunshot wounds to his leg and shoulder. Investigators found one spent 9 mm casing and a gun clip, or magazine, with nine bullets.
Through phone records, police found that Garcia had called Gander Mountain, a hunting and camping store in Terre Haute. A subsequent search warrant showed that he purchased a 9 mm pistol there on March 8. Police are searching for the weapon.
Garcia's credit card statements also showed that he made a $22.59 purchase May 12 at the Casey's General Store on the eastern edge of Council Bluffs, just off Interstate 80, Mois said.
Exterior surveillance cameras show a man driving a black Mercedes SUV, consistent with the description of Garcia's vehicle. An inside surveillance camera further shows a man who looks like Garcia showing his identification as he bought a case of beer.
In a separate action Wednesday, lead prosecutor Kleine gave notice of the state's intent to prove three aggravating circumstances that might merit the death penalty in the Garcia case:
>> That the killings were heinous.
>> That there were multiple killings.
>> And that at least some of the killings were committed to conceal the identity of the killer.
World-Herald staff writer Roseann Moring contributed to this report.
Garcia's lawyers, Bob and Alison Motta of suburban Chicago, asked Judge Darryl Lowe to close the hearing "in an attempt to not further taint the potential jury pool."
Their client is at the center of some of Omaha's most high-profile homicides in recent years. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has likened Garcia to a serial killer, noting the similar methods of death used in each of the slayings and the length of time between the killings. The arrest last month of Garcia -- five years after the so-called Dundee murders -- have drawn national attention to the case.
Garcia, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the March 2008 slayings of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and house cleaner Shirlee Sherman, 57. He also is charged in the May 2013 killings of the Brumbacks, both 65.
Police and prosecutors have described Garcia as a doctor with a festering grudge fueled each time he was denied a medical license or job because of his 2001 firing from Creighton. Drs. Brumback and William Hunter, Thomas' father, had fired Garcia for unprofessional conduct toward a fellow resident. They attested to the firing in writing each time Garcia submitted applications to a state medical board and medical facility.
Garcia bounced across the country — unable to hold down jobs and, at one point, declaring bankruptcy. He often omitted his firing from Creighton and his dismissal from another hospital residency, only to have prospective employers learn of his problems by checking his credentials with Creighton, according to documents and police.
After the Brumback killings, detectives combed through files of residents and faculty in the Creighton University Department of Pathology. Garcia stood out after detectives discovered that he was fired. At the time of his July 15 arrest in southern Illionois, Garcia was drunk and had a gun in his car. He appeared to be traveling, though his destination wasn't immediately known.
• Police and prosecutors say someone entered the home of William Hunter on March 13, 2008, and stabbed Thomas and Sherman, the only two in the house at the time. Neighbors described seeing an olive-skinned man in the area of the Hunters' home, 303 N. 54th St. The neighbors said the suspect was driving a gray or silver Honda CRV or similar sport utility vehicle.
• Police have said that Garcia had a silver Honda CRV registered to a Shreveport, La., apartment in 2008. That SUV is currently registered to Garcia's father in Walnut, Calif.
• Four years later -- on Sept. 19, 2012 -- Brumback sent a letter to an Indiana medical licensing board detailing Garcia's rotations during his short stay at Creighton. Brumback noted that Garcia was involved in an incident that the program felt was unprofessional behavior toward a fellow resident.
• On Mother's Day of this year — May 12 — Brumback and his wife were preparing for the doctor's impending retirement and their move to West Virginia. Daughter Audrey Brumback, a doctor in San Francisco, had just spoken to them via the FaceTime application on the Brumbacks' iPad. When their bodies were found two days later inside their home at 11421 Shirley St. they were wearing the same clothes they were wearing when they talked to their daughter.
• Omaha police said their bodies bore similarities to the 2008 slayings at Hunter's home. All four victims had similar multiple stab wounds to the right side of their necks. It was also determined that knives from each residence were used in the attacks and left at the scene.”
• The difference was that Roger Brumback also was shot - gunshot wounds killed him. Investigators found one spent 9 mm casing — and a gun clip, or magazine, with nine bullets.
• Police obtained Garcia's phone records and found that he had made a call to Gander Mountain, a hunting and camping store in Terre Haute. A subsequent search warrant showed him purchasing a gun there on March 8. Police are searching for the weapon.
• After tracing the gun purchase, Omaha police tracked Garcia's cellphone and credit card records.
• His credit card statement showed him making a $22.59 purchase May 12 at the Casey's General Store on the eastern edge of Council Bluffs, just off Interstate 80. Outside surveillance cameras show a man driving a black Mercedes SUV, consistent with “the same year and model … registered to” Garcia.
• An inside surveillance camera further shows a man who looks like Garcia showing his identification as he apparently buys alcohol at the store. It was 12:38 p.m.