Ogden teen pleads guilty to grocer’s fatal shooting
OGDEN — Sixteen-year-old Antonio Garcia pleaded guilty Friday to a pair of first-degree felony charges in the Feb. 28 robbery and fatal shooting of neighborhood grocer Satnam Singh.
Defense attorney Ron Nichols said Garcia agreed to plead guilty to a charge of felony discharge of a firearm, reduced from the original charge of aggravated murder. The reduced charge’s penalty is five years to life in prison; an aggravated murder conviction carries a 25-to-life sentence.
Prosecutor Letitia Toombs of the Weber County Attorney’s Office said Garcia in addition pleaded guilty as charged to first-degree felony aggravated robbery, a five-to-life offense.
The attorneys announced the plea bargain in a 2nd District Juvenile Court video hearing as Judge Debra Jensen prepared to hear arguments on whether the teenager would be tried in juvenile or district court. Jensen accepted the agreement and ruled that jurisdiction over the case will advance to 2nd District Court.
The deal is a milestone after nearly seven months of uncertainty over the investigation into the beloved grocer’s shooting and the fate of the teenage suspect, who was 15 at the time. Juvenile court proceedings are closely guarded from public view in most instances, according to state law, and the Standard-Examiner withheld Garcia’s name from its coverage before he was certified to be judged in adult court.
The plea bargain calls for Garcia after sentencing to be held in the Weber Valley Youth Center, where he has been housed since his arrest, until he turns 21. After that, the case will be in the hands of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, which will decide whether to move him to a state prison or grant him parole.
Toombs said the agreement includes a failsafe provision: If the district court refuses to accept the deal, the guilty pleas would be withdrawn and proceedings would revert to the previous stage.
Singh’s family has reviewed the deal and agrees with it, Toombs said. Efforts to get comment from the family’s spokesperson were not immediately successful Friday.
Toombs recounted the crime during the hearing, describing Garcia entering the Super Grocery, picking out a few items, approaching the counter, pointing a gun at Singh and announcing, “This is a stickup.”
“When Mr. Singh moved away toward a little office area, he pulled the trigger several times, hitting Mr. Singh three times,” Toombs said. Singh, 65, was dead at the scene.
Garcia was arrested a few days later. During a police interview, according to the arrest affidavit, the teen said he planned the robbery “because he did not have as much cash as he wanted.” The teen acknowledged having smoked THC the day before the robbery “but that he stopped smoking so he could be sober for the robbery,” the affidavit said.
Toombs said Singh’s death was “a serious loss to the community” and that the gravity of the crime called for Garcia to be under district court jurisdiction, “farther than the juvenile court would be able to.”
Nichols said of the prospect of five versus 25 years behind bars, “We all agree that it leaves a very good reason for the minor to go ahead and aim for rehabilitation on his own.”
The attorneys said details of the plea bargain were negotiated over several months. Nichols said that the “totality of the circumstances” led the defense not to fight to keep the case in juvenile court, where even if convicted, Garcia could be held only until his 21st birthday.
Nichols said Garcia has been doing well at Weber Valley, completing school work and receiving counseling. Through the spring and summer, Garcia appeared before Jensen in a video hearing each week, the judge reviewing whether he still should be held pending trial. One week, Garcia told the court he had been named student of the week at Weber Valley.
Jensen went over the plea bargain with Garcia, asking him if he understood and agreed to it, “Yes, your honor,” he said. The hearing was paused while Garcia, clad in a dark green shirt and wearing a white face mask, signed the agreement.
Per procedure, Jensen said she would issue an arrest warrant for Garcia to facilitate his transfer to district court.
Singh, an Indian immigrant who moved his family to the United States in the 1970s, was the popular owner and operator of Super Grocery, 675 N. Monroe Blvd.
In a recent message to the Standard-Examiner, the family said in a statement, “Everyone is struggling with their own battles. This world needs more peace, kindness, faith and support. In Satnam’s words — if God has blessed you with enough, share with others.”
Photo supplied Satnam Singh is pictured in an undated photo with his youngest daughter, who family asked not be named. Singh was shot and killed on Feb. 28, 2021, while tending to this Ogden convenience store, prompting a strong outpouring of support from the public.