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York City cold case: Ailing mother 'not going to die' until son's killer caught

Nilda Garcia is battling cancer, but the York City woman says she refuses to die before she learns who killed her son 12 years ago.

Twenty-year-old Juan Miguel Laboy was fatally shot Aug. 29, 2006, while on the North Beaver Street bridge.

Although two men were charged in his slaying many years ago, the case was dismissed mid-trial and the charges were eventually dropped.

Garcia, 52, was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and started chemotherapy late last month — but she said that won't stop her from finding answers. 

"I'm not going to die until I know who did this to my son," Garcia said as the anniversary of his death approaches.

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History: Someone shot Laboy in the back just after midnight as he walked from work to the Front Street home of his girlfriend and their 10-month-old son.

Two men, Donte Milburn and Robert King III, were charged in the death about two years later, but prosecutors were forced to drop the charges after their only witness's testimony was determined not to be credible. 

That was their only piece of evidence at the time.

That happened in early 2010. No other arrests have been made in the case since.

"I'm still looking for answers," Garcia said from her York City apartment in early August.

Laboy: Garcia's oldest child died from illness when he was young, many years before Laboy's death. Other relatives have died since Laboy's death, and Garcia said she's been able to cope with the losses. She knows what caused those deaths.

But she can't do that with Laboy. There's no closure without knowing who did this to her son, she said.

"We all want to be at peace," she said.

Garcia said she thinks about her son often. She wonders what Laboy would have done while she is in cancer treatment. He was always looking out for her, she said.

"It feels like it was yesterday," Garcia said of Laboy's death.

Garcia said her son wasn't a troubled kid and was always helping people. Laboy tried to stick up for younger people or the elderly when he thought they were being mistreated, she said.

Laboy was a recent father at the time of his death. His son, her grandson, is 12 now. 

Investigation: Prosecutors based their case on the word of Louis Valentine, a felon they knew had lied to them, according to defense attorney Bernard Ilkhanoff.

"There was never any corroboration of this guy's versions," he said at the time, adding that investigators did nothing to try to confirm Valentine's claims. "It's simply the word of a convicted felon."

The York City Police department also made other mistakes.

Former Detective Scott Hose, now with the York County Sheriff's Office, testified he collected blood samples from the street as well as gunshot residue from the victim.

"It should have been sent to the lab," Hose said.

But because there were no initial suspects, and because one of the tests cost more than $6,000, that wasn't immediately done.

Once King and Milburn were developed as suspects, the items should have been sent to a crime lab, Hose told jurors.

"(That's) where we dropped the ball as a police department," he testified during trial. 

When the charges were dropped at the request of prosecutors, then-York City Police Chief Wes Kahley told The York Dispatch the investigation wasn't typical of the department.

'We're humans': Garcia said she was mad about how the department handled the case at the time, but she's not angry anymore.

"We're humans, we're allowed to make mistakes," she said. 

Garcia noted that at the time of her son's death there were a few other fatal shootings, so the department was busy. 

Still, she's wondering why the investigation is taking so long. 

Lt. Gene Fells, who supervises the detective bureau, said detectives have exhausted all leads and are not actively investigating the case.

But, he said, if someone knows something about the incident, they should come forward.

"Our detectives are more than willing to listen," Fells said, adding that is the case with all of their investigations.

Garcia said she's always happy when she hears homicide suspects have been taken into custody, but at the same time she's sad because she hasn't had that for her son.

"I've had to deal with it for 12 long years," she said.

Help: Now, approaching the 12th anniversary of Laboy's slaying, Garcia is asking for help finding whoever is responsible for her son's death.

She said she's hopeful that something could turn around in the case.

Authorities in Lancaster County this year arrested Raymond "DJ Freez" Row and charged him in the 1992 slaying of a schoolteacher, according to the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office.

DNA discovered in late May led to the arrest in the 25-year-old case, the DA's office said.

"That brings me hope," Garcia said.

She said anyone with information should send in tips to the police department. Tips can be sent anonymously. 

As for the person or persons responsible for Laboy's death, Garcia has a message.

"Whoever did this, just come forward," she said. "It'll help you, and it'll help me."

Anyone with information about the case can call police at 717-846-1234 or text "Yorktips" and the information to 847-411 or download the York City PD App.  Texting in tips is the best method of conveying information about this incident, police said, and it is anonymous. 

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.