Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
For Immediate Release
Susan Kang Schroeder
LONG BEACH MAN SENTENCED TO 11 YEARS IN PRISON FOR THE MURDER OF AUTISTIC SECURITY GUARD DURING BURGLARY AT A CHURCH
SANTA ANA – A Long Beach man was convicted today of voluntary manslaughter for the murder of a security guard, who suffered from high-functioning autism, while burglarizing a church construction site. Sean Christopher Hodge, 29, Long Beach, pleaded guilty to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 11 years in state prison. Hodge testified in his co-defendant’s jury trial.
Co-defendant David Joseph Zimmer, 22, Long Beach, was found guilty by a jury Oct. 29, 2009, of one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery and a burglary, one felony count of second degree robbery, and one felony count of second degree commercial burglary. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on June 4, 2010.
At approximately 3:00 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2007, Zimmer broke into a storage facility at a construction site for Cottonwood Church in Cypress with the intention of stealing expensive welding equipment. The defendant, a welder, had worked on the construction site but had been fired four months earlier. Hodge broke into the facility with the intent to steal the equipment with Zimmer.
While the defendants were stealing the equipment, 51-year-old security guard Michael Garry approached Zimmer and Hodge and attempted to speak with them. The victim, who lived with his brother in Long Beach, suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Hodge engaged the victim in conversation to distract him as Zimmer hit him from behind with his fist and a blunt object.
After rendering the victim unconscious, Zimmer continued to load the stolen equipment into his truck. Hodge also loaded stolen items into the vehicle. When Garry began to regain consciousness, Zimmer repeatedly struck the victim. The defendants then fled the scene.
Garry was discovered lying in the dirt later that morning by construction workers arriving at the job site. He was transported to the hospital and died shortly thereafter due to blunt force trauma to the head.
Investigators linked Hodge and Zimmer to the crime through Zimmer’s fingerprints found at the scene. Hodge was arrested for the crime on Oct. 3, 2007, and a warrant was issued for Zimmer, who had fled to Mexico in September.
On Oct. 11, 2007, Hodge was in possession of some of the stolen equipment during a law enforcement search of his home. Zimmer turned himself in that same day.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste of the Homicide Unit prosecuted this case.