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Ex-Wife Testifies for Prosecution in Nicolas Holzer’s Quadruple-Murder Trial

Attorneys question Juanita Holzer, the mother of Sebastian and Vincent, who were stabbed to death by their father in 2014

Murder defendants sits in court. Click to view larger
Convicted murderer Nicolas Holzer sits in court during a recent hearing in the sanity phase of his trial. His ex-wife, Juanita Holzer, testified on Monday for the prosecution. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The ex-wife of convicted murderer Nicolas Holzer testified Monday about their marriage and how he treated their two sons, whom he killed on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for the murders of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Brian Hill has found him guilty of the fatal stabbings, and the sanity phase of the trial is underway.

If Holzer is found to have been sane at the time of the murders, he will be sent to prison for life; if he is found to have been insane, he will be sentenced to a state mental hospital.  

Holzer and Juana Garcia Holzer – who was called Juanita or Ms. Holzer in court — were married in 2001, while she was pregnant with Sebastian, she testified Monday. They started divorce proceedings in 2006.

She testified as a witness for the prosecution, and the District Attorney’s Office victim witness advocate Joan Fairfield sat next to her on the witness stand throughout her testimony.

Hill asked Juanita Holzer multiple times whether she would prefer to testify in Spanish or English, and she spoke in English for the majority of her testimony before an interpreter was called in.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen asked her questions about her dating relationship with Holzer, their marriage, the divorce, and the custody battle over the boys, which ended with a Santa Barbara judge giving Holzer full custody.

She testified that she came to the United States from Mexico when she was about 22 years old, and met Holzer soon after, while she was working at a Goleta nursery.

They moved in together and got married after she became pregnant with Sebastian. 

Holzer’s parents had insisted they get married, while Holzer was not happy about the pregnancy and said he wasn’t ready to be a father, she said.

She had a good relationship with Holzer’s parents and siblings during the marriage, she said, and called them for help when she had problems with Holzer. 

“Mama Sheila and Papa Bill,” as she called his parents, suggested the couple go to counseling to work on their marriage, and told Holzer multiple times to go to therapy, she testified.

She described Holzer as controlling and sometimes angry, and said his behavior was worse when he drank. 

She left for San Diego, with the boys, twice during the marriage, because she was nervous about Holzer's behavior and did not like how he treated the children, she testified. 

If Sebastian woke up at night crying, Holzer would pick him up, cover his mouth, and put him in the car or the garage for an hour or more, she said. 

She was in San Diego in 2004 for about a month before Holzer came down, with his parents, and asked her to come home, saying he wanted to change, she testified.

She decided to go back to Santa Barbara with him the same day, to the condo they lived in, she said.

Things did not get better, and in 2006, she separated from him for good, again heading to San Diego with the boys, she said.

Divorce and custody proceedings followed, with Holzer eventually getting full custody.

“The last time I see Vincent he was 4 years old, one day before his birthday,” she said.

That was in March 2008.

Other witnesses in the sanity phase of the trial so far have included psychologists, psychiatrists, and County Jail employees, with a timeline emerging of Holzer’s mental health and medical history.

His marriage to Juanita Holzer happened in the roughly 10-year period when he reportedly was not seeing a psychologist or therapist regularly, or taking medication, according to testimony.

In court, Zonen asked Juanita if she knew Holzer had been under the care of psychologists/psychiatrists before their marriage, and she said no.

She also testified that she did not know that he tried to kill himself twice, but that she knew about his suicide attempt while he was teaching English in Japan (around 1995).

Under cross examination from Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, discussing specific statements to police or the child custody evaluator, Juanita Holzer said she couldn’t remember making some of them, or denied making them.

Her voice broke multiple times while she testified, and at one point, unprompted by a specific question, she said, “If you think he is mentally (sic), he is not; he is very smart.”

The court-appointed child-custody evaluator, who previously testified in the case about the couple’s custody battle in 2007-2008, said Juanita had expressed concerns that Holzer had some form of psychiatric condition, and had mentioned specific instances of him being paranoid, and of pacing and being unaware people were talking to him.

Testimony in the case continues Wednesday morning in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Juanita Holzer has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Scott Holzer, Nicolas Holzer’s brother who is trustee for the Holzer Family Trust, for the deaths of Sebastian and Vincent.  

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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