Prosecutors and defense attorney agree: “These murders were senseless.”
It took less than 25 minutes Thursday for a Tarrant County jury to find a former middle school teacher guilty of capital murder in the deaths of two of his neighbors.
Prosecuting attorneys did not seek the death penalty for Cary Joseph Heath, 37, of Fort Worth, a former North Texas teacher who was accused of killing two men at a 2016 Halloween party in their neighborhood.
Heath, who was a science teacher at a Cedar Hill middle school, received an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors argued that Heath shot, killed and then beat his victims with the butt of his rifle, and that no one they have talked to understands why.
Officials with the medical examiner’s office identified the victims as Daniel Haros and Phillip Evans Garcia, who both were 25.
Garcia’s mother, Paige Garcia, said that Heath killed her only son.
“The family is completely devastated and want answers that they know will never come,” Garcia said to Heath. “I have no idea of how to live now. Our ability to have compassion for others is gone now. We feel incapable of giving back or paying forward. The younger ones are fearful. I thought that it was important to read this to you. I wrote this almost three years ago and thought there was no need to write another because nothing has changed.”
Haros’ mother, Lupe Haros, told the jury that her son was her best friend and that every day that she goes without him breaks her heart. Haros said she was very blessed to have him as her son.
“He was always such a hardworking, loving person,” she said. “You, Cary Heath, you did the despicable. You stole my son’s life and I still have not been given a reason why. I hope you never get out of jail. I hope that you stay in there and get what you deserve.”
‘That’s a massacre’
Tarrant County prosecutor Page Simpson said that once the jurors saw the crime scene photos and understood how much the victims must have suffered as they died, you could see how upset they became.
“Can you understand how much anger it takes to unload your entire magazine into two individuals and then strike them with the butt of your rifle?” said Nicholas Vincent, Tarrant County assistant district attorney. “That’s not only murder, that’s a massacre.”
After his sentence was read, John Stickels, the attorney who defended Heath, said this was a “senseless killing and a tragedy for everyone involved.”
Stickels said he had introduced enough reasonable doubt into evidence for the jury to acquit his client. There is evidence to suggest the rifle barrel on the suspected murder weapon was switched and also evidence that suggests blood samples were contaminated, Stickels said.
But Simpson said that even if those two things were true, it does not explain the blood and the DNA from the victims that investigators found in the defendant’s safe.
“The worst thing these two victims did was go over and shake their neighbor’s hand,” Simpson said.
Simpson also said she believed the killings were senseless, with no apparent motive that she has been able to identify.
“You know there are lots of senseless murders all over the country especially with assault rifles and multiple victims,” Simpson said. “I think it’s just a trend now. I don’t think there is ever a real good reason for anyone to do this. But we did not find a set motive in this case.”
A trial is also pending for Heath’s wife, Tiffany Heath, who is accused of helping her husband cover up the crimes.
Heath was accused of killing his two neighbors in front of their homes on Buffalo Springs Drive in south Fort Worth.
A ‘friendly and cordial’ conversation
Cary Heath was arrested a day after the shootings in the parking lot of Permenter Middle School — where he taught science to eighth-graders — in Cedar Hill.
The killings immediately followed a “friendly and cordial” conversation at a neighbor’s Halloween party, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2016. Afterward, the suspect said that he would never see his 1-year-old baby again.
Heath and his wife were at a small Halloween gathering at their next-door neighbor’s home in the 800 block of Buffalo Springs Drive. Everyone was standing in the front yard early on the morning of Oct. 23, 2016, when four neighbors came to visit for less than five minutes before walking back home, according to the warrant.
A neighbor said the conversation was friendly, but a few minutes later, after Heath’s wife and neighbor went into the neighbor’s house, multiple gunshots were heard.
Cassandra Haros, the sister of one of the victims, testified Tuesday morning that she confronted the angry attacker as he was standing over one victim, striking him with the butt of a rifle. Heath asked if she “had a problem” as he pointed a rifle at her. And then she said he told her, “He was in my yard.”
She later discovered that two men were dead.
A couple of minutes after that, Heath ran into a neighbor’s house, handed someone his 1-year-old baby and said: “This is the last time I will see the baby. I killed two people,” before running out, the warrant said.
One man was lying dead in a driveway down the street. The other victim lay dead in a different front yard. A medical examiner told police that they died of multiple gunshots and blunt-force trauma to the face and head, the affidavit said.
Heath’s wife told police that her husband admitted to her that he killed the two men, and then asked her to clean the blood in the gun safe, according to the warrant.