100-year sentence in killing of Montgomery County teens night before graduation

The fourth man convicted of killing two Germantown, Maryland, teens the night before they were supposed to graduate from high school in 2017 was sentenced Friday to 100 years in prison.

Roger Garcia was convicted of second-degree murder and gun charges last month in the deaths of Shadi Adi Najjar, 17, and Artem Ziberov, 18, who were found in a running Honda Civic on Gallery Court in Montgomery Village in June 2017.

Garcia was given the maximum sentence on all counts: 30 years for each murder charge and 20 years for each handgun count.

Najjar and Ziberov were students at Northwest High School on June 5, 2017, and had been lured to the spot in Montgomery Village, thinking they were selling spare tickets to their graduation the next day. Najjar was shot four times; Ziberov, 10. The police found 30 shell casings at the site.

The other three men convicted in the case — Jose Canales-Yanez, Rony Galicia and Garcia’s brother, Edgar Garcia Gaona — have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

In court documents, prosecutors said Garcia fired at least six of the shots and was instrumental in luring the teens to the spot, friending Najjar on Snapchat about a week before and setting up the false sale of the graduation tickets.

“Without [Garcia’s involvement], they never would have gone there,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said in a news conference Friday after the sentencing.

“Only this defendant was initially aware that Shadi’s selling a graduation ticket created an opportunity for the ambush,” the prosecutors said; “… none of the other three accomplices in these murders could have accomplished the creation of this connection.”

The documents also said Ziberov was an acquaintance of Najjar’s, who had nothing to do with the robbery, but “the murderers went ahead and decided to murder Artem anyway.”

In court, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David Boynton called Garcia “the linchpin in this case between [Najjar and Ziberov] living and dying.”

Garcia had graduated from Northwest a year before. McCarthy said Garcia was “minimally employed as anything other than a drug dealer.”

The documents said the murder was “a violent ambush on two unsuspecting, defenseless teenagers,” motivated by revenge for Najjar’s having stolen marijuana from Canales-Yanez’s future wife.

“They massacred boys over a fistful of marijuana,” Boynton said of the four defendants.

Garcia’s lawyer, John Sharifi, said in court that his client had debilitating epilepsy and claimed that he had been sexually abused by a teacher in middle school, in a bid to encourage Boynton to set a lighter sentence.

While looking at the boys’ families in court, Garcia apologized and said, “My heart goes out to you all.”

He also said, “I pray for peace and closure for you all.”

Adi Najjar, Shadi Najjar’s father, thanked the prosecutors and police, and said that the verdicts and sentencing provided justice, “but the pain and suffering for the living one — that will never end. They said after time and time, the time will heal. I can tell you that time will never heal. We’re going to remember our boy until the day we die.”

“These are gut-wrenching experiences,” McCarthy said, adding that he felt the pain of the Garcia family.

“It’s gut-wrenching for the family who walks out of there and has a young boy who’s going to do a 100-year sentence,” he said. “There’s pain everywhere. What’s the line from ‘Romeo and Juliet’? ‘All are punished.’ … But these families are without sons forever.”

Asked about the concept of closure for the Najjar and Ziberov families, McCarthy said, “I think closure’s nonsense. I don’t believe in closure. The only thing that would give them closure would be if you could bring back their 17-, 18-year-old sons. This doesn’t do that. Do they have a sense that justice was done? Yeah. Closure? Never.”

WTOP’s Mike Murillo and Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

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