In the wake of the fatal stabbing of 29-year-old Lisa Marie Zazueta early in the morning on Thursday, October 23, her family, friends, and neighbors are trying to piece together a story that is as confusing as it is tragic.
According to police, Garren Musser, 24, called them to the 1300 block of Kowalski Avenue on Santa Barbara’s Westside. Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, a spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Police Department, said that after being taken to the police station, Musser indicated “that he was responsible for the homicide.” The District Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday that Musser has been charged with the murder and is being held without bail.
The stabbing is believed to have taken place in the street in front of the house where Musser lives with his parents, said police, and was allegedly over a relationship dispute between Musser and Zazueta. Police stated that the alleged relationship was short-term. However, further details surrounding the murder are scant.
Comments posted beneath the initial independent.com article by people purporting to be Zazueta’s family members and friends suggest that Musser was not her boyfriend and that she was married, but as of press time these statements had not been confirmed.
Musser’s parents were unavailable for comment, and none of his neighbors knew the nature of the relationship between Musser and Zazueta. A quick poll of a few neighbors revealed that Musser waved hello to people when coming and going from his house, but that he was quiet and more or less kept to himself.
Musser’s next-door neighbors said they were treated inappropriately by the officers who responded to the homicide. “It’s not right how they went about doing everything,” said Sonia Garcia, who has lived in her house for 13 years. Garcia and her husband said that, hearing sirens, they came out into their front yard to investigate and saw Zazueta lying in the road. Garcia said she told police that from where she was standing, behind their fence, the girl laying in the road looked like her cousin, and she was very concerned that one of her family members had been hurt. She continued that, without telling her family that the woman had been killed, police came into their yard with guns drawn, threatening to shoot their dog, even entering the house and waking up one of their sons at gunpoint. “They wouldn’t let us in the house to get sweaters and we were panicking,” she said. “They weren’t doing that at other peoples’ houses.”
The Garcias said they were very concerned about how this affected their children.
Police responded that because the crime occurred directly in front of the Garcias’ house, an investigation was a logical consequence. Acting police spokesperson Sgt. Jim Pfleging put the officers’ actions in a different light. “It was a little chaotic out there, and I don’t know what was going through the officers’ heads at the time. It may be perception-[the Garcias] thought they were being treated badly while the officers thought they were solving the murder of the moment,” he said. “If they have concerns, we deal with complaints and we take them all seriously, so I would encourage them to come in.”
A table laden with flowers, devotional candles, and signs mourning Zazueta’s death now stands at the end of the driveway where her life ended. “The saddest thing was having to see her daughter over here,” said Garcia, who said she has spoken with and comforted Zazueta’s family since the murder took place. “Even though [Lisa] wasn’t a family member, just seeing her laying there made me say it could have been my daughter, my sister, someone in the family.”
The preliminary hearing set for Musser’s case will occur at the Santa Barbara Superior Court on November 25. Gordon Auchincloss, who is handling the case for the DA, said that Musser – who has entered a plea of not guilty – faces the possibility of anywhere from 15 years to life in prison. Musser’s attorney, public defender Nathan Poulos, said that it is customary for defendants to enter a not guilty plea at the arraignment regardless of statements made to police. “We would like to express our heartfelt condolences to the Zazueta family at this time,” he said. “This is a tragedy for all of those involved, especially the families of the parties and the Kowalski Street community. At this early stage of the case we have only just begun the discovery process, and as such, I have not yet been able to have a meaningful opportunity to review the facts with my client.”