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Merardo Garza, Jr.

Other Kansas Exonerations
On June 24, 2007, an 8-year-old girl known as M. told her mother that the girl’s father, 37-year-old Merardo Garza Jr., molested her the night before at the family’s home in Wichita, Kansas.

M’s mother took her daughter to an area hospital for examination, where the girl repeated her accusations to a healthcare professional. Merardo Garza was arrested on June 27, 2007, and charged with aggravated indecent liberties. A month later, he was also charged with an alternative count of rape. Garza’s jury trial in Sedgwick County District Court began on January 7, 2008.

At the time of his arrest, Garza lived with his wife, Amy Garza, and their six children. The two oldest, A.C. and X.S., were Merardo’s stepdaughters. The other four, including M., were the couple’s biological children.

During the trial, M. testified about the alleged abuse by her father. She said that on the night in question, she was sleeping in the front room of the family’s house when Garza put his fingers in her vagina and wiggled them. Twice, she said, she took his hands out of her pants, and he later rubbed her rear end from the outside of her pants. She said she first told A.C. and X.S. and then her mother.

Several witnesses testified for Garza. First, A.C. said that at some point after the arrest, M. came into her room and “she started crying and I was like ‘What’s wrong?’ She said, I miss Dad and I want him to come home … And she said, ‘I think it was just a dream and I’m making it up, and I want my daddy and I love him and I miss him.’”

M. had testified that she never told anybody that the abuse was really just a dream.

A.C. also said that she and X.S. got along with Garza, although X.S. had “kind of an attitude toward him sometimes.” Merardo’s brother, Eddie Hagler, testified that M. told him that “Her daddy, he never touched her and her mom was making the whole thing up.”

Garza testified in his own defense and denied harming his daughter. He said that on June 23, 2007, he was sleeping on the couch in the front room of the family’s house. M. had been asleep on the floor in the room. At some point, Garza said, he heard a noise and woke up. He saw X.S. walking through the front room on the way to one of the back rooms. She mumbled something, he said, and then Garza went back to sleep. He also testified that he had drunk 12 beers that day, an action that a judge would later note was “less than exemplary.”

The Garzas’ marriage was rocky prior to the arrest. A.C. testified that her mother and stepfather fought and that her mother was arrested after one of their arguments. Garza testified that he had caught his wife chatting online with another man, and part of his defense was to suggest that the abuse allegations by his daughter were prompted by his wife in an effort to gain leverage. But Amy Garza said that wasn’t so. She testified that she loved Garza and said, “I don’t think he’s capable of this.”

The jury convicted Garza on both charges on January 10, 2008. He was later sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on the rape conviction and not sentenced on the indecent liberties conviction.

Garza appealed, claiming that his trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to contact a witness and secure a transcript from a preliminary hearing. He also asserted the state’s charging documents were insufficient. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected most of his claims on July 30, 2010, although it vacated the indecent liberties conviction because Garza had been charged with that as an alternative offense, and he could not be convicted of both alternatives. Because Garza had been sentenced only on the rape conviction, the court’s ruling didn’t affect his time in prison.

In 2012, M. told Amy Garza that she had been molested by her sister, X.S. Around that same time, Amy Garza learned that X.S. had molested another of her children, a boy known as D., and a nephew, known as J.

M. signed an affidavit in 2015 that said she had falsely accused Merardo Garza of abuse.

Garza then filed several pro se motions for a new trial based on his daughter’s recantation. For reasons that are not clear, the courts failed to act on these motions.

On July 7, 2017, Garza filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Sedgwick County District Court. Chris Garcia was then appointed to represent him. At a two-day evidentiary hearing in early November 2020, Judge Seth Rundle heard from M., D., and J.

Each described the abuse from X.S., and M. said she was sorry for falsely accusing her father.

Judge Rundle vacated Garza’s conviction on November 6, 2020. He wrote that it was his conclusion that it was X.S. who molested M. and then threatened the younger girl and coerced her into telling A.C. that Garza had abused her.

He said he found M.’s recantation and the testimony of D. and J. to be credible evidence of Garza’s innocence.

“After review of the testimony of J., D. and M. in the transcript, the court was struck by the stark difference between seeing the testimony and reading it,” Judge Rundle wrote. “For example, when J. testified about how many times he was molested, he paused, looked down and away from anyone in the courtroom and appeared to be searching his memory slowly, with the finger of one hand moving across the digits of the other as he recalled and counted different events. Likewise, the registration of shame and embarrassment on the face of D. during different points of his testimony has, of course, no other place in the record besides here.”

Garza was released from prison on December 23, 2020. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the remaining charge on January 25, 2021.

On October 21, 2021, Garza filed a petition in Sedgwick County District Court, seeking a certificate of innocence, which would entitle him to state compensation as a wrongfully convicted person.

Judge Rundle granted the certificate on January 20, 2022, and also awarded Garza $877,589 in compensation, based on the state’s formula of $65,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment. The ruling also awarded Garza health benefits and the waiver of tuition and fees for post-secondary education.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 2/8/2022
Last Updated: 2/8/2022
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Child Sex Abuse
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:25 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No