Three young Maryland men accused of gunning down a pair of high school students on the eve of their graduation were indicted on murder, robbery and weapons charges Thursday, according to records filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court and a spokesman for county prosecutors.
The grand jury indictments against Jose Canales-Yanez, 25, Edgar Garcia-Gaona, 24, and his brother Roger Garcia, 19, were not unexpected. On June 17, the three were charged by Montgomery County Police with counts of conspiring to commit murder and committing murder, and ordered held without bond.
The killings of the students, Shadi Najjar, 17, and Artem Ziberov, 18, drew wide attention. Both had been on the honor roll at Northwest High School in Germantown — and had plans to attend college. The night of June 5, with Najjar behind the wheel of a blue Honda Civic, the friends pulled up in a cul-de-sac in Montgomery Village, about 20 miles north of Washington, and were expecting to meet someone who had expressed interest in buying a ticket to the next day’s commencement.
But the interest in the ticket was feigned and a ruse to set up an attack, according to police who contend the three accused gunmen unloaded at least 30 rounds at the car and the teens, killing them in their seats. Detectives said in court filings that they believe the attackers were motivated by a drug deal gone bad months earlier, when Najjar allegedly stole drugs from one of the gunmen’s girlfriend.
The indictments Thursday arrived after a panel of grand jurors reviewed the police case. The charges are similar to the police charges, but with the addition of handgun and robbery counts — and are part of a regular process of moving cases from Montgomery’s district court to circuit court, where felony cases are handled.
No trial dates were set. All three suspects remain jailed, according to online court records.
Kathleen A. Dolan, an attorney for Canales-Yanez, said she expected him to be exonerated. “They got the wrong guy,” Dolan said.
Ron Gottlieb, an attorney for Edgar Garcia-Gaona, declined to comment. Online court records do not indicate whether Roger Garcia has retained an attorney.
Few documents have been filed in the public court record, other than the original statements of probable cause written by police.
In those documents, detectives said that on the night the teens were killed — at 10:13 p.m. — Najjar sent a message to his girlfriend saying he was going to sell the commencement ticket to “Roger Garcia.” Najjar and Ziberov were shot at approximately 10:46 p.m., police have said.
The detectives spoke to Garcia, who said he did not know Najjar or Ziberov, and did not buy graduation tickets from them, according to court records. Garcia said he had attended Northwest High School.
Detectives were able to link Roger Garcia to his brother — Edgar Garcia-Gaona, who also goes by Edgar Garcia — and searched his brother’s home. They found a “partial box of ‘Blazer’ .40-caliber ammunition,” they wrote in court filings, adding: “It should be noted that, at the crime scene, 11 of the 30 shell casings recovered were ‘Blazer’ .40-caliber shell casings.”
Detectives said they connected the brother to a friend, Canales-Yanez. They learned that Canales-Yanez’s girlfriend had reportedly been robbed months earlier by someone in the passenger seat of a blue Honda Civic. Detectives said that it had been Najjar who committed the robbery, that he had stolen drugs, and that the June killings were an act of retaliation.
It is not clear whether Ziberov knew about the earlier reported robbery. The court records filed Thursday show the conspiracy to commit murder counts relate only to the planning of Najjar’s death — and indication that Ziberov may have gone to the fake ticket sale and been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ziberov was hit by 10 bullets, police have said, and Najjar was hit by four. The attackers also took Najjar’s cellphone before fleeing the scene, according to court records.
Najjar’s father, Adi Najjar, has said that any negative attention given to what his son may have done in the past misses the point.
“My boy is a beautiful boy,” Najjar said last month. “We raised him right. We loved him. We still love him. He will be in our hearts forever and ever.”
The Garcia brothers were both born in Maryland, according to court records. Canales-Yanez was born in Honduras, according to court records. Immigration agents have lodged a detainer on him at the jail, according to jail officials, an indication that the agents may try to have him deported at some point in connection with the case.