Court of Appeals denies Oak Harbor murderer’s petition

The state Court of Appeals dismissed a petition filed by the man who killed Adam Garcia.

The state Court of Appeals recently dismissed a personal restraint petition filed by the man who shot and killed Oak Harbor resident Adam Garcia on Oct. 18, 2014.

Christopher Malaga has been trying, unsuccessfully, to appeal his conviction since a jury in Island County Superior Court found him guilty in 2016 of murder in the first degree and assault in the second degree, with firearms enhancements added to each charge. Judge Vickie Churchill sentenced him to nearly 37 years in prison.

The early-morning shooting in a quiet Oak Harbor neighbor shocked the community at the time. Malaga shot Garcia in the face and pointed a gun at another man who tried to intervene after a few young men met on the street for a small-time drug deal.

The prosecutor’s theory of the case was that Malaga was motivated by injured pride. Malaga had been living with 21-year-old Garcia’s family but felt slighted when Garcia asked him to leave, the prosecutor said during the trial.

The Court of Appeals, Division 1 terminated direct appeal of Malaga’s case in August 2019 after the appeals court affirmed Malaga’s conviction and denied a motion for reconsideration and the state Supreme Court also denied a petition for review.

Malaga then filed the personal restraint petition, which is a motion for review on the basis of violations of state or federal constitutional rights. Malaga and his attorney made six different arguments in the petition, all of which were rejected by the Court of Appeals.

In the part of the petition filed pro se, Malaga asserts for the first time that he was present at the scene of the shooting and that it was accidental. He claimed someone bumped his hand and the gun went off.

During the trial, in contrast, Malaga’s attorney argued that he was not present at the scene.

The Court of Appeals appointed an attorney to represent Malaga after finding that his pro se petition was not frivolous. In a supplemental petition, the attorney argued that Malaga’s attorneys prevented him from testifying, but the court ruled that it was too late to make such an argument.

Malaga is running out of options for appeals. He can ask the state Supreme Court for a discretionary review of the case and the Court of Appeals’ decision. He could also file a petition for habeas corpus with the U.S. Supreme Court.