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I first heard about the subject of my latest story, Noe Garcia Chavez, through my colleague at voiceofsandiego.org, Kelly Bennett. She knew Patricia Villanueva, Garcia’s real estate agent and financial adviser, from previous reporting. Bennett got me in touch with Villanueva and the ball started rolling.

My first conversations with Villanueva focused on the details of Garcia’s survival and how investigators were able to finalize a conviction for his wife. Then we started talking more about Garcia, his wife and their relationship before the shooting. The story became a scattering of small but important details, so I turned to court documents to help nail down a timeline.

In general, court documents can be very bland. But the testimony against Garcia’s wife, Magali Manilla Cabrera, was fascinating to read and even in writing, you could understand how tense the courtroom must have been. Cabrera sat in the courtroom as her cousin testified against her.

“You’re a little nervous?” asked deputy district attorney Frank Jackson.

“Uh-huh. Yes,” replied the cousin, Guadalupe Manilla Cabrera.

“That’s OK. Just if you take your time, you’ll do just fine.”

Villanueva said Guadalupe had a stern glare when she testified. I can’t imagine how Magali must have looked sitting before her testifying cousin.

Villanueva was my key to meeting Garcia. She has continued to work as Garcia’s financial adviser and she is helping him apply for disability benefits and the sale of his house. She also pushed American police to investigate Cabrera more than anyone else.

“What could be more important than catching the killers?” Villanueva told me.

Villanueva and I worked to schedule a group meeting with Garcia at her Vista home so we could all chat about the case and the fallout. That’s where our photographer, Sam Hodgson, grabbed a stunning profile of Garcia and his scars.

Garcia is more fluent in Spanish than English, so our conversation was mostly in Spanish. I caught some of his words myself, but Villanueva helped me translate. After the meeting, Garcia could not say enough good things about Villanueva. She is aware of the risk that comes with involvement in an attempted murder investigation, but testified anyways.

“She really helped me a lot,” Garcia said. “She’s my angel.”

— KEEGAN KYLE

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