On the afternoon of May 30, the verdict on the charges against Aquelin Talamantes was delivered. The jury found the defendant guilty of murder and assault on a child under eight, with force likely to produce great bodily injury resulting in death.
The second part of the trial, which started Friday, determines whether the defendant is sentenced to prison or a mental hospital, and is dependent on whether the jury finds Talamantes legally insane. Legal insanity constitutes that the defendant had a mental disease during the time of the crime, and that due to the disease she was incapable of knowing that the act was morally wrong.
Trial began with Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen calling Dr. Captane Thomson back to the stand. She questioned the doctor about the details of psychotic breaks, what they are and how they work. According to him, during a psychotic break an individual can have hallucinations where they see and hear things no one else can, and that they may become delusional, anxious or depressed.
He mentioned that an individual can also become “disassociated,” meaning that he or she may not recollect having a psychotic break, or that their thoughts could potentially be fragmented. Further discussing Talamantes’ specific case, the doctor told Fredericksen that he believed Talamantes did not appreciate the wrongfulness of killing her daughter.
When asked to elaborate more on that statement, he explained that Talamantes was aware of her actions because at that moment she believed she was sparing her daughter from a more heinous crime by drowning her. Talamantes was under the false belief that the cops were going to take her daughter and “cut her head off.”
When it was time for Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens’ cross-examination of the witness, he began by asking whether Talamantes directly told the doctor that the reason she killed her daughter was to spare her from a more brutal death, or if that was his conclusion. After some thought the doctor admitted that that was his reasoning for her crime, due to the alleged voices the defendant was hearing. Couzens then asked the doctor if it was possible that Talamantes simply made up the voices as an excuse, but the doctor was adamant about the defendant’s mental instability.
Moving on, Couzens brought up a case that the doctor testified in 22 years ago. The defendant in this case was Eric Houston, who was found guilty of murder and attempted murder and ultimately sentenced to the death penalty. Dr Thomson’s testimony stated that Houston was not mentally insane, even with his low IQ of 74.
What Couzens was most interested in was the reason why Dr. Thomson diagnosed Talamantes mentally insane if she has a higher IQ, of 75. The doctor explained that the circumstances of both cases were very different. Couzens then argued against the doctor’s opinion of Talamantes being borderline mentally challenged. Citing a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),Couzens persisted that it did not state any qualifications for “borderline mental challenges.”
Fredericksen’s re-direct was prompt, asking the doctor whether he believed Talamantes would be better situated in prison or a mental hospital. According to the doctor’s professional opinion, he believed that Talamantes would be given better and more necessary treatment at a mental institute than at a prison.
In his final examination of the witness, Couzens found himself in a stalemate with the doctor. The DDA, hoping to get compliance from the witness, formulated a hypothetical question asking what the outcome would be for an individual who was found not to meet the mental requirements for an institution. Dr. Thomson replied that this outcome was irrelevant in Talamantes’ case, and that she would be properly taken care of in such an institution.
With more direct, Couzens asked the doctor if the mental institution would still allow Talamantes to continue in the program if they found that she was embellishing her mental state. Unshaken, the doctor re-stated that Talamantes would be best treated in a mental institution.
After a period of running in circles, the doctor finally concurred that a person who did not fit hospital criteria would indeed be released. However, his final statement reiterated the fact that this would not occur in Talamantes’ case.
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