Three friends on the tail-end of a guy’s night out had just bought a fresh 12-pack of beer at a gas station in Sauget when one of them dropped the case, spilling some beer on another man’s shoes.
The man went to his car, came back, and shot Oscar C. Carbajal to death. Nearly two years later, a jury has found a man guilty in that shooting.
Wednesday afternoon, the jury found 35-year-old Lamarc R. Garrett, of St. Louis, guilty of first-degree murder in the Sept. 5, 2015 shooting.
Though Carbajal was not the one who dropped the beer, he had hurled racial insults at the suspect, a black man, according to witness accounts.
Prosecutor John Trippi walked jurors through the evidence during his closing argument Wednesday morning. He argued details proved Garrett was the man seen in surveillance video walking from his rented Ford Fusion — which he later traded for another car — up to Carbajal, shooting him with about two feet between the men.
“Oscar Carbajal didn’t make it home because the defendant shot and killed him,” Trippi said. “He died on that concrete.”
Defense attorney Brian Flynn said they weren’t there to dispute Carbajal was killed, but he told the jury that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Garrett committed the murder.
“I don’t need to prove who did this, and I don’t need to prove it wasn’t my client,” Flynn said, also reminding jurors their verdict must not be influenced by the fact that Garrett chose not to testify.
Flynn also questioned Fernando Vargas-Rentana, the one witness who positively identified Garrett in a photo lineup before Garrett was arrested. He argued it was an “unfortunate reality” that people of one race often have a hard time identifying people of another race.
However, Steven Sallerson, first assistant state’s attorney, said his prosecution team has proved Garrett shot Carbajal dead without a doubt through physical evidence and witness testimony.
“Cold-blooded murder, he wanted him dead,” Sallerson said. “When you shoot someone with a .45 caliber, you have one thing on your mind: killing.”
On Monday, witnesses to the shooting said Carbajal had been out at a neighboring club with two friends before they drove over to the gas station to buy a 12-pack of beer from the walk-up window when one of Carbajal’s friends, Fernando de la Torre, said a black man came up to him and asked him for one of his beers. He said he told the man “not a problem.”
Carbajal then got out of the car and came up to de la Torre, thinking the man was “trying to start something,” according to Vargas-Rentana. Carbajal called the suspect a racial slur and said black people “want everything for free” and urged his friend not to hand over a beer, Vargas-Rentana said.
At one point, de la Torre dropped the case of beer as he was trying to hand it to Carbajal, breaking some of the bottles and splashing beer onto the suspect’s shoes, Vargas-Rentana said. A witness told police the suspect replied, “You gonna buy me new shoes?”
Video footage showed the suspect returning to his vehicle, which was parked at a gas pump, getting in the car, placing the pump in the gas tank and then walking back to the men, who were buying a replacement case of beer.
The footage shows the suspect removing a handgun from under his shirt and shooting Carbajal. The suspect then went back to his car, a blue 2015 Ford Fusion, and drove away.
On Tuesday, several other witnesses were called to the stand.
Illinois State Police Detective Chris Coyne confirmed in court that Vargas-Rentana identified Garrett in a photo lineup during the initial investigation as the man he saw shoot Carbajal. Another friend, Fernando de la Torre, said in court Monday he could not identify the suspect.
Alamo employees described the process customers go through to exchange a rental car. They also discussed their interactions with Garrett, who prosecutors say exchanged his rental Ford Fusion for a Chrysler 200 at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, shortly after the killing.
Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Michael Lewis took the stand and displayed for the jury several pieces of evidence he logged when processing the rented Chrysler after Garrett’s arrest. Included in that list were a white shirt, black shorts and Jordan shoes — which matched the description witnesses gave of the suspect.