Zaid murder case heading toward spring trial

Salih Abdul-Haqq Zaid is escorted into the courtroom in 2018. - Gila Valley Central File Photo

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The case against Salih Abdul-Haqq Zaid, 39, for the shooting death of Jared Michael Garcia, 35, appears to be headed for a spring trial.

Prosecution and defense interviews have wrapped and both sides have issued disclosure to the other. Until a resolution is found, Zaid remains incarcerated on a $1 million bond. 

Next on Zaid’s court docket is a status conference hearing set for Nov. 7 at 9 a.m., followed by a motions hearing deadline on Jan. 18, 2018. His murder trial is listed for March 5 – 23, 2018, and is scheduled to be heard in front of Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem D. Corey Sanders, who is set to retire the following month. With Judge Sanders handling the case, Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson is available to mediate settlement conferences, a skill which he handled with expertise and great results in various other cases prior to being appointed as Graham County Superior Court Judge. Peterson was then elected to the post in Graham County’s primary election in August 2016. 

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Salih Abdul-Haqq Zaid stares blankly ahead as he makes his way into court.

Zaid is accused of murdering Garcia after a confrontation at the Bull Pen bar at 912 W. Thatcher Blvd. in the early morning hours of April 26.

After allegedly being accosted by Garcia in the bar, Zaid reportedly left and retrieved an AK-47 rifle loaded with a 30-round magazine from his residence at the 8th Street Apartments. Zaid then returned to the bar, according to an officer’s testimony during his preliminary hearing and video surveillance from multiple businesses, and coaxed Garcia out into the parking lot by his truck.

According to witnesses’ statements to police, Garcia approached Zaid’s truck from the rear, and Zaid shouldered a rifle and shot him as Garcia put his hands up in the air and turned to run. An autopsy report from the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office showed no powder burns on Garcia’s body and that he suffered a single gunshot wound that entered his left side and exited the right side of his torso. The medical examiner said Garcia was at least three feet or more away from Zaid when he was shot.

After the shooting, Zaid left the parking lot in his truck and drove past the Safford Police Department on 10th Avenue. By then, officers had already received a call about the shooting and a description of the suspect’s truck. A Safford sergeant was pulling out of the department as Zaid drove by and soon after initiated a traffic stop. At that time, the sergeant located an AK-47 rifle loaded with a 30-round magazine and a .357 revolver in Zaid’s truck.

During interrogation, Zaid allegedly readily admitted to shooting Garcia with his rifle. After learning Garcia had died, Zaid said, “I’m a (expletive deleted) murderer,” according to Safford Detective Bill Wren’s preliminary hearing testimony. Zaid then followed that up by saying, “How do I really say it’s self-defense because I went back into the bar?”

Zaid was subsequently charged with first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, endangerment, disorderly conduct, and discharging a firearm within city limits.

During his previous preliminary hearing, Zaid’s attorney, Dennis McCarthy, said Zaid acted in self-defense.

Eric Burk File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Investigators examine the scene of a murder at the Bull Pen parking lot.

McCarthy called the incident a tragic situation but one that was initiated by Garcia, whom he described as a “very sizable man” roughly 6’3” and 250-270 pounds versus Zaid who is a “frail” 5’7”, McCarthy said. He then requested Judge Griffith dismiss the charges because Zaid acted in self-defense.

“He was justified in defending himself,” McCarthy said. “He had an aggressive individual who was approaching him only feet away while these other two individuals are right there. Mr. Zaid was left with no other choice but to defend himself. He was about to take another beating by an enormous man.”

Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett countered McCarthy’s argument by saying Zaid had already squashed the beef with Garcia by shaking his hand and had left the bar and was safe at home when he decided to retrieve an AK-47, load it with a high-capacity magazine and return to the bar armed.

“The defendant went to his truck and at his truck said, ‘Come here, I want to show you something,’ and then just happened to have a gun locked and loaded and ready to fire as a completely unexpected victim walked toward him,” Bennett said. “The testimony was not that the defendant shot the victim straight through the heart as he was attacking, it was that he shot him in the side as he was turning to run.”