1998 murder victim in Henry County identified <br> Many did work to solve mystery

1998 murder victim in Henry County identified
Many did work to solve mystery

April 14, 2008
Patrick Howington

Nine years after hunters found a murder victim wrapped in a Mickey Mouse blanket in a Henry County ditch, investigators have put a name to his remains.

The man was killed on an eastern Jefferson County farm in a 1998 cocaine deal, and three people were convicted of killing the unidentified man.

But his name is known now, thanks to the Kentucky medical examiner's office, a Texas Ranger, federal missing-person databases, DNA analysis and a national network of volunteers who help solve unexplained disappearances.

He was Miguel Angel Garcia, and his mother in southern Texas reported him missing in 1998.

Hunters found his skeletal remains in February 1999.

He had been shot and beaten, concluded Kentucky's forensic anthropologist, Emily Craig.

He wore a gold bracelet, jeans, a blue shirt and sandals, but bore no identification.

The circumstances of Garcia's murder came to light when a man who helped the killers dispose of the body was arrested on other charges and talked about the slaying.

That led to murder convictions in 2002 of Patrick W. Meeks, Michael Anthony "Tony" Peak and Leann E. Bearden, all in their 30s.

According to testimony, they lured Garcia to the farm to rob him of cocaine he planned to sell them.

Meeks and Peak were sentenced in Jefferson Circuit Court to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years, while Bearden, who cooperated in the investigation, accepted a 20-year sentence.

The identification of the victim was pieced together over the next several years, in a case reminiscent of the TV dramas "Bones" and "Cold Case."

In early 2003, the Kentucky medical examiner's office sent bone samples to the FBI's missing-person DNA database in Quantico, Va., according to a case summary provided by Craig.

DNA information from the bone was uploaded into an index of unidentified human remains.

Four years later another database came into play when the U.S. Justice Department started the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).

Details of the Kentucky corpse were put in that new online repository.

A few months later, last December, Sgt. Ray Ramon of the Texas Rangers received a tip that human remains found in a Dallas suburb might be Garcia's.

They weren't.

But that led Ramon to reopen the case. Interviewing Garcia's mother, he obtained a swab of her DNA and had it placed in a DNA index of missing persons' relatives.

Meanwhile, the Doe Network -- a volunteer organization that seeks to match unidentified remains with missing persons -- spotted similarities between the Kentucky case and Garcia's.

The network thought a photo of Garcia looked like a facial reconstruction of the Henry County remains, Craig said.

Also, the Texas police report said Garcia had told people he was going to Kentucky.

The Doe Network's Kentucky-Tennessee director, Todd Matthews of Livingston, Tenn., called Craig.

She contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety and learned it was pursuing a separate Doe Network tip.

Craig sent Ramon dental records from the Kentucky case file, while he obtained Garcia's dental chart from the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

The two sets of records matched.

Meanwhile, comparison of DNA from the remains and Garcia's mother confirmed the identification, which authorities made official Wednesday.

Garcia's mother in Freer, Texas, was notified Friday.

Ramon said in an interview he wasn't there when she was told, but "I probably think that she knew deep in her heart that this was not going to be a good outcome."

Craig said she has been working with federal officials since 2003 to help get the NamUs system going.

"This case proves how valuable that is," she said.

The Kentucky medical examiner's office has been diligent in uploading cases into it, Craig said -- "every known case of unidentified remains going back to the early '70s."

Matthews, who is the Doe Network's national media director as well as its Kentucky-Tennessee director, said the Kentucky medical examiner's office is "1,000 percent better" than most states'.

"If somebody kills me in Tennessee, I hope they throw me out in Kentucky," he said.