The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has re-instated the murder conviction of a man charged in connection with the killing of two Northwest High School students five years ago.
Rony Galicia, now 30, was charged with murder, conspiring to commit murder, armed robbery and the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence in connection with the fatal shootings of Shadi Ali Najjar, 17, and Artem Ziberov, 18, in June 2017, according to authorities. Najjar and Ziberov were ambushed and shot multiple times while they sat in a parked car in Montgomery Village, according to prosecutors.
The victims were lured under the guise that they would sell a graduation ticket to the suspects, and the reason for the killings was retaliation against Najjar for stealing marijuana, according to Montgomery County police.
Following the killings, Galicia, along with conspirators Edgar Garcia-Gaona, Gaona’s half-brother Roger Garcia and Jose Ovilson Canales-Yanez were charged with murder. The four men were convicted of murder at various times between 2018 and 2019.
Police have said that Garcia told Najjar on Snapchat that he would buy an extra graduation ticket from Najjar on June 5, 2017. Najjar and Ziberov were shot and killed in Najjar’s blue Honda Civic around 10:25 p.m. that night while it was parked in the 8200 block of Gallery Court in Montgomery Village. Police have said at least 30 rounds were fired at the two students, who died at the scene.
According to police, the killings were an act of retaliation against Najjar, who had allegedly stolen marijuana from Canales-Yanez’s wife six months earlier.
Galicia was originally convicted of murder in November 2018 and a few months later was sentenced to a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. He appealed the case, and in January 2021 the Court of Special Appeals overturned the conviction on the grounds that a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge did not give Galicia’s attorneys an opportunity to introduce evidence.
The evidence in question was an interview with Garcia-Gaona’s girlfriend, Luz DaSilva, with police on June 17, 2017, in which DaSilva told police that Garcia-Gaona said to her that he, Garcia and Canales-Yanez were involved in the killing, but did not implicate Galicia, according to an opinion from Judge Deborah Eyler. A transcript of the interview was not “received in evidence” but was available to the parties, she wrote in that opinion.
The Court of Special Appeals ultimately ruled in favor of Galicia, because it found that it was relevant that the portion of DaSilva’s statement not specifically implicating Galicia was relevant to the case.
However, Judge Robert McDonald wrote in the Court of Appeals’ decision on Monday that DaSalva’s use of nonspecific phrases “and a few other guys” and “they” do not prejudice Galicia, because the phrases do not suggest that Galicia was or was not one of the shooters.
“Ms. DaSilva’s testimony concerning Mr. Garcia-Gaona’s confession to her was neutral on who, in addition to Mr. Garcia-Gaona, those shooters were,” he wrote.
McDonald went on to write in the opinion that it was “never clear” from DaSilva’s statement to police that she would testify that Garcia-Gaona had told her Galicia wasn’t guilty.
“At most, Mr. Galicia’s counsel argued that, based on the defense interpretation of the transcript, Mr. Garcia-Gaona had impliedly asserted that Mr. Galicia was not involved because there were a few references to Mr. Garcia and to Mr. Canales-Yanez, but not to him, during some portions of that conversation,” McDonald wrote.
Isabelle Raquin, an attorney who represents Galicia, declined to comment to Bethesda Beat on Tuesday.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said in a statement on Tuesday that the Court of Appeals’ ruling means Galicia will continue to serve his life sentence.
“The opinion from Maryland’s highest court reaffirms what the state believed from the beginning. Rony Galicia is, indeed, responsible for the violent deaths of these two teenagers along with his co-defendants,” he said in the statement.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org