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Murder defense says wrong man accused

Murder suspect Christopher Malaga appears in court with his attorney, Jennifer Bouwens. - Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Murder suspect Christopher Malaga appears in court with his attorney, Jennifer Bouwens.
— image credit: Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

Defense attorneys are expected to argue that police simply have the wrong guy in a murder trial starting next week.

Christopher Malaga, 24, is accused of shooting and killing his former friend, Oak Harbor resident Adam Garcia, during a small-time drug deal in October of 2014.

Prosecutors charged Malaga in Island County Superior Court with first-degree murder and assault in the second degree.

The counts were each filed with a firearms enhancement, which would add an automatic five years to a sentence if a jury finds that it should be imposed.

The trial begins Tuesday. It is scheduled to last three weeks.

Pre-trial hearings have been feisty as both sides argued about what evidence should be allowed in court.

Judge Vickie Churchill denied the defense attorneys’ motion this week to recuse Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks from handling the case; the defense attorneys argued that Banks “lost objectivity and perspective in his attempt to gain a conviction.”

Jennifer Bouwens, the lead defense attorney, said in a hearing Tuesday that the “crux” of the case involved the witness identification of the shooter.

One of two witnesses from the scene described the shooter as a short, fat Asian-looking man by the name of “Nikko,” “Nico” or “Nikki,” according to defense motions. A detective found a man who matched the name and description and the witness picked him out in a photo line-up, Bouwens said.

The witness later changed the identification and fingered Malaga as the shooter.

The other witness at the scene, who was friends with Malaga, told police that Malaga fired the fatal shot, according to police reports.

“It’s an uncanny and bizarre circumstance that they look so much like each other,” Banks said in court, referring to Malaga and the other man.

Banks held up photos of both men.

Prior to the Oct. 18, 2014 shooting, Malaga had been staying on-and-off at Garcia’s family home.

Garcia, 21, kicked him out just prior to the incident, Banks said in court. Malaga went to stay at a teenager’s home in Oak Harbor.

Garcia was at a party and contacted the teenager about buying a small amount of cocaine for a friend; the teenager and Malaga met with Garcia and his friend at about 3 a.m. at the corner of Southwest Castillian and Fairhaven drives, according to the police report.

Malaga allegedly shot Garcia in the face after some angry words were exchanged, the police reported.

 

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