Governor commutes Tulare murderer’s life sentence

Richard Flowers, now 64 years old, is eligible for parole in the 1996 murder of elderly Tulare woman

The Sun-Gazette

SACRAMENTO – Convicted Tulare County murder Richard Flowers will have an opportunity to plead his case for parole thanks to Governor Gavin Newsom.

Last week Newsom announced 21 commutations. One of those was Flowers, 64, who had been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 78-year-old Mary Garcia of Tulare during a burglary and robbery on Nov. 1, 1996.

The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant clemency, including in the form of a pardon or commutation. A clemency grant recognizes a person’s subsequent efforts in self-development. It does not forgive or minimize the harm caused by the crime. The commutation grants will allow the inmates to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which the Parole Commissioners determine whether the inmate is suitable for release from prison.

Richard Flowers
64 years old

Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward staunchly opposes Flowers’ commutation. In a press release on Monday, Ward said this is another example of taking decisions away from the community. He pointed to last year’s death penalty moratorium as the first example.

“Like Governor Newsom’s death penalty moratorium, we were informed of Mr. Flowers’ clemency through the news media. This is a deplorable action without any justification,” Ward said. “As I have said before, actions such as this are a travesty to victims, their families, and the men and women of this office who strive for justice every day. Once again, this action shows there is a lack of truth in sentencing in California, as a jury recommended a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Our legal system has shown more compassion to Mr. Flowers than he ever did for his victim.”

According to the Governor’s commutation, Flowers has been serving his sentence for 25 years, but has high marks for behavior.

“Mr. Flowers participated in self-help programming and maintained consistent employment throughout his incarceration, routinely receiving exceptional work ratings from his supervisors,” the commutation statement from the Governor’s office stated.

It went on to say that correctional officers praised Flowers for his “positive attitude and work ethic noting that he, “has a good working relationship with staff and his peers … and has demonstrated skill and knowledge, genuine interest and effort in his work, teamwork and participation.”

Newsom wrote in his commutation that Flowers has “turned his life around.”

“Mr. Flowers committed a serious crime that took the life of Ms. Garcia…I have carefully considered and weighed the evidence of Mr. Flowers’s positive conduct in prison and his good prospects for successful community reentry,” Newsom wrote. “I believe that Mr. Flowers has earned the opportunity to present his case to the Board of Parole Hearings so it can determine whether he is suitable for parole.”

This was not Flowers’ first attempt at clemency. He was first recommended for a sentence commutation in 2018 by the Board of Parole Hearings after Flowers petitioned for clemency from Governor Jerry Brown. In October of 2018, Ward used social media to urge the community to contact the Governor regarding Flowers’ case.

“Not only did this office file its formal objection to Mr. Flowers’ potential release with the Governor, we appealed directly to the law-abiding, hard-working people of Tulare County. Their response to us and to Sacramento was crystal clear – this killer should not be released back in to our community,” Ward said. “The Governor acted wisely, and we appreciate him taking the people’s concerns into consideration.”

According to a letter to Brown from DA Ward, in June of 1994, Mary Eloise Garcia, lived alone in the house where she had lived for over 50 years and where she was murdered. Garcia lived on her Social Security income and kept any cash she had in her purse rather than a bank account. She was cautious about who she let in the house, using a peephole and having visitors announce themselves before being allowed in.

Flowers occasionally did yard work for Garcia and she would sometimes invite him in when she retrieved the cash from her purse to pay him. In the early morning hours of June 6, 1994, neighbors heard Mary’s voice and a man’s voice arguing; the next day, Mary’s car was not in her driveway. A handyman and a neighbor approached the front porch and noticed her door was slightly open.

When Tulare officers responded to the victim’s house, they found Mary dead on the living room floor and her house and purse ransacked; no money was found, the victim’s car was missing, and a window on the side of the house had been knocked out. The telephone line had been cut, and a kitchen knife was found on the coffee table and another found outside in a clump of grass. Garcia’s car was later found jacked up in a stall of a car wash, with the stereo, all four tires and rims, and the spare tire missing.

Garcia had suffered three stab wounds, to the neck, chest, and ribs, as well as bruising and abrasions to her face, an apparent defensive wound to her inner arm, and an attempt at strangulation. The cause of death was determined to be a heart attack brought on by the stress of enduring the stab wounds and strangulation.

Just a portion of the evidence against Flowers was that he was in possession of items belonging to Garcia, such as a locket and chain, his fingerprints were found inside the victim’s vehicle in several locations, one of which was on the steering wheel, and throughout the day he removed the hubcaps, tires, and stereo from the victim’s vehicle and sold them for money to buy cocaine.

Ward added in his letter, Flowers already had a criminal history spanning 20 years by the time he committed the instant offenses. His history of adult convictions began in 1974 and was comprised of six separate prison sentences, two from the state of Illinois, which included his first residential burglary conviction in 1979 and two subsequent prison sentences for first-degree burglary convictions in 1983 and 1987. His other prison sentences were for grand theft in 1974, receiving stolen property in 1990, and check fraud in 1993. This period of criminal behavior, spread out over 20 years, additionally included multiple violations of parole.

Ward stated in his 2018 letter that Flowers had numerous opportunities for rehabilitation and to change his behavior in an appropriate and positive manner; instead, despite having a good education, a wife and several children to raise, he chose to continue to engage in criminal conduct for a period of 20 years. Not only did he demonstrate an outright unwillingness to obey the law, but the level of violence in his criminal behavior escalated, as evidenced by the cruel, vicious, and fatal crimes against Mary Garcia, Ward stated.

Start typing and press Enter to search