Though no body was found, jurors convicted him of murder. An appeals court is freeing him

Missing body murder case

Excerpts of video statement evidence in the case against Miami’s John Paul Garcia.

Excerpts of video statement evidence in the case against Miami’s John Paul Garcia.

Four years ago, Miami jurors convicted John Paul Garcia for the murder of his ex-lover, even though detectives never found her body.

On Wednesday, a Miami appeals overturned the verdict, ruling that prosecutors hadn’t presented enough evidence that the woman, Larissa Macriello, was killed by Garcia.

The decision stunned Miami-Dade police detectives and prosecutors. They had built a compelling circumstantial case that involved phone records placing Garcia with the woman when she went missing, and evidence that Garcia drove her car and drained her bank account in the days after her disappearance in June 2013.

“There was no crime scene, no evidence of the location or manner of Ms. Macriello’s death, no murder weapon, no eyewitness to the crime, and Mr. Garcia made no confession to Ms. Macriello’s murder,” wrote Third District Court of Appeals Judge Edwin Scales in the 3-0 decision.

The court ordered Garcia, 50, be acquitted on the conviction for second-degree murder and that his conviction for grand theft be lowered to a third-degree felony. Garcia was serving a life prison sentence.

If Wednesday’s decision stands, Garcia still won’t be getting out of prison anytime soon. He’s still serving a 15-year sentence on an unrelated gun charge.

At the time, Garcia’s was historically the fifth conviction in a Miami-Dade murder case in which no body was found.

Garcia, who worked as assistant for a local bail bondsman, earlier did six years in prison for drug trafficking. His criminal history also included an arrest on murder charges in 1991. It was a suspected drug rip-off killing case that was eventually dropped. Courts don’t factor a past criminal record in a decision, just the facts of a particular case.

Macriello, born in Panama, was an avid traveler and cook who had never been married or had children. She moved to Miami in 2009, where she worked as an “erotic” massage therapist.

She frequently called her family. Her brother, concerned she had gone missing, flew from Jacksonville and found an uneaten meal inside her efficiency in the 3100 block of Northwest 98th Street.

Homicide detectives zeroed in on Garcia, who was married but had a four-year relationship with Macriello, whom he met online.

Detailed cellphone records showed Macriello visited his home right when she went missing. For weeks afterward, whenever her phone was turned on, it was always in the same place as Garcia’s phone — an indication he had possession of her phone, prosecutors said.

Video surveillance cameras captured him driving her car to her bank, where he withdrew money from her account. In all, over several weeks Garcia cleaned out her account of over $40,000, prosecutors told jurors.

Her car also surfaced later in front of her home. It had been thoroughly cleaned, but some blood drops were found in the trunk and on a floorboard. Prosecutors believe he dropped off the car, then called a cab to return home.

At trial, defense attorneys argued that with no body, and no witnesses to any crime, prosecutors had nothing.

The Third DCA agreed. “The State’s voluminous circumstantial evidence clearly creates a strong suspicion that Mr. Garcia was responsible for Ms. Macriello’s apparent death,” the opinion said. “Strong suspicion, however, is not the standard for obtaining a criminal conviction based on purely circumstantial evidence.”