Santa Fe New Mexican

Man charged in ’19 killing pleads guilty under deal

Agreement caps possible sentence at 16 years; victim’s father says that’s too light

- By Phaedra Haywood phaywood@sfnewmexic­an.com

A Santa Fe man accused in the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daniel Viktor Gisler in 2019 is facing up to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to counts of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence.

Under state law, the crimes carry a combined penalty of up to 18 years — 15 years for the murder charge and three years for tampering. But the plea deal for James Garcia, 27, caps his sentence at a shorter term.

While both the prosecutor­s and the defense attorney lauded the resolution of the case, Gisler’s father said the punishment was far too light for the man who killed his son. Viktor Gisler also said he was deeply disappoint­ed in how law enforcemen­t handled the investigat­ion and prosecutio­n of his son’s death. If it weren’t for his own efforts to investigat­e, he said, he isn’t sure Garcia would have ever faced charges.

Kari T. Morrissey, an Albuquerqu­e attorney appointed by First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies as a special prosecutor in the case, said the plea deal allows the court to place Garcia on supervised probation for five years after he finishes his prison term.

State District Judge Jason Lidyard will sentence Garcia after he has undergone a diagnostic evaluation.

Daniel Gisler had been missing for more than two weeks before police found his gunshot-riddled body in December 2019 under a tarp near a residence on Santa Fe’s south side. He’d been shot 11 times. Garcia was arrested the next day, following a tip from someone who told police detectives he had confessed to killing Gisler during a drug deal.

“Mr. Garcia has taken responsibi­lity, and we look forward to moving on,” Garcia’s defense attorney, Todd Bullion, said Thursday after the plea hearing.

Carmack-Altwies said she felt Garcia’s plea was a “good outcome.”

But Viktor Gisler, who said he raised his son as a single father, disagreed.

“The only thing I have left is I bought a spare grave next to my son,” he said Thursday. “I’m going to be buried next to him. That’s the only thing I have to look forward to.

“Basically that guy murdered an innocent kid just for fun,” he added. “This guy will have a life after he does his sentence. I don’t. He wiped out my whole family.”

Viktor Gisler took issue with how the case against Garcia was handled from the beginning.

“I brought in more than half the evidence,” he said. “Without me, he wouldn’t even have been charged with second-degree murder. … I found out where they killed my son.”

Gisler claimed detectives were dishonest with him about the progress of the investigat­ion. They also got it wrong when they say the crime was a drug deal gone awry, he said, adding his own investigat­ion showed jealously was one of Garcia’s motives for killing his son.

Carmack-Altwies said Thursday she had assigned the case to a special prosecutor in December due to a “conflict” in her office, but she said she couldn’t elaborate.

Asked about police work on the case, she said that “it could have been better” and that her office has been meeting with the police department to improve systems going forward.

Officials with the Santa Fe Police Department did not respond to a message seeking comment late Thursday.

Morrissey said it would be difficult for her to say for certain whether police did a poor job, “but I believe there was a disruption in the investigat­ion because the primary detective retired and left some issues in the investigat­ion unresolved.”

As for whether Daniel Gisler was killed during a drug deal, Morrissey said, “We’re never going to know exactly what happened.”

But, she added, “I think it may have been a planned robbery of the victim.”

Other people likely were involved in the crime, Morrissey noted.

She said Viktor Gisler “did a stellar investigat­ion concerning the death of his son.”

“If it weren’t for his efforts, I don’t know what would have happened. … Did he have to do his own investigat­ion? I don’t know,” she said. “But I do believe it was his investigat­ion that really helped the police department get moving. He gave them what they needed in order to really get started, I believe.”

Viktor Gisler, who is originally from Switzerlan­d, said he believes New Mexico and the entire U.S. has failed him.

“My son was shot [multiple times] in his car at close range,” Gisler said. “[Garcia] should have the same sentence. He should be shot on the Plaza for the whole world to watch it. That’s justice. Nothing else.”

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James Garcia

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