With a steady string of witnesses called on behalf of the prosecution in People v. Talamantes over the past few days, the courtroom of Department 3 in Yolo County Superior Court was enveloped with waves of emotion of varying degree. On May 14, the defendant’s sister, Priscilla Talamantes, took the stand, followed by social worker David Ribakoff who investigated the case, police officer Brian Donder and lastly Dr. Sheila Kumar, who performed a physical examination of the defendant shortly prior to the date of her arrest on September 26, 2013.
The following afternoon, Priscilla’s mother-in-law Darlene Gonzalez, who was present at the time the defendant’s daughter was found in the trunk, neighbor Steve Zappettini who witnessed the incident, and Anthony Palmer, a past boyfriend of the defendant Aquelin Talamantes, all took the stand to testify.
As DDA Ryan Couzens attempted to lay the foundation for this case, Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen in turn sought to prove the impaired nature of the defendant’s mental state. As all this went on, the family members who testified, police officer Brian Donder, and several members of the jury were overcome with emotion upon hearing and recounting the tragic events of this case.
Aquelin Talamantes, who is charged with allegedly drowning her five-year-old daughter Tatiana Garcia, was unrestrained for the duration of the trial and displayed no outward signs of bizarre, unstable behavior.
One by one, with each witness presented to members of the jury and audience, the prosecution sought to unravel the defense’s claims of mental insanity.
Upon questioning the defendant’s sister Priscilla, Couzens several times caught inconsistencies between her testimony on the stand and what she had said in the police report.
When asked to testify on Talamantes’ behavior, particularly her allegedly exhibited tendency to rock back and forth, Priscilla at first replied “a couple of times,” until DDA Couzens reminded her that she had been asked by the police if her sister rocked back and forth and she had said no at the time.
Couzens also brought to light the fact that Priscilla had stated in her report, “Aquelin’s problem was her personality.”
Couzens questioned whether Priscilla’s testimony of the defendant’s childhood, saying “she was molested and raped several times,” was trying to serve as an excuse for her behavior, and also questioned the inconsistencies in her testimony with the police report. To this, Priscilla Talamantes tearily replied that she was “feeling overwhelmed,” and that “there are things I’ve already said that I didn’t want to admit, why would I make things up?”
Couzens ended his examination of Priscilla Talamantes with a simple, yet significant question: “If Aquelin was thoughtful enough to call law enforcement on herself, then didn’t she have other options than doing what she did?” To this, Priscilla uttered a quiet “Yes.”
The next day, Priscilla’s neighbor Steve Zappettini, an onlooker of the events on September 26 leading to the defendant’s arrest, testified with regards to what he saw that day. When prompted by Ms. Fredericksen regarding his police statement on how he saw Aquelin Talamantes as “emotionally distressed, like a 5150 or something,” Zappettini clarified by asserting that he “didn’t mean to imply that she was acting crazy, the only thing indicating her distress was the crying.”
Later, Priscilla’s mother-in-law, who was also present on September 26, 2013 when Tatiana Garcia’s body was found in the trunk of the defendant’s car, testified that she had largely stayed away from Priscilla, who was trying to comfort Aquelin and secure the safety of Aquelin’s son Michael, upon her daughter-in-law’s request. Gonzalez recalled, “Priscilla had told me several times that Aquelin was strong, had a tendency to get into fights, and would hurt me, so I felt the need to stay back as she had urged.”
As this case moves forward, jury and audience members alike will be provided insight into the controversial figure of Aquelin Talamantes, and will have to determine for themselves the truth behind her claims of mental insanity.
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