Aquelin Talamantes faces charges of murder and assault after police discovered her daughter’s drowned, lifeless body in the trunk of her car on September 26, 2013. The victim, Tatiana Garcia, was only five years old when she died. Talamantes is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.
Talamantes’ eldest sister, Elisa Torres, took the stand this morning as the prosecution’s witness, and her testimony devolved as the minutes ticked. Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens chalked Torres’ seemingly poor memory up to “sometimes saying things when [she’s] upset that [she] might later regret.” Torres verbally confirmed Couzens’ contention. For the remainder of the day, she fell back on responses such as, “I do not recall,” when asked to acknowledge statements she had previously made. When presented with audio recordings, Torres still “did not remember” her own words.
Aquelin Talamantes and Elisa Torres and their siblings did not have easy childhoods, by civilized standards. As children, the girls were molested by their mother’s string of boyfriends. Aquelin was sodomized by her own father with “battery packs from a light-up toy.” Their mother offered zero parental protection, suffering mental health disorders that Torres believes were not recognized at the time. Rosa Talamantes was an abusive alcoholic that would “beat [them] with anything she could find.” As if instigating a familial chain of events, Rosa tried to drown her children on occasion and Torres, the eldest child, was forced to intervene.
When Aquelin was 11 years old, Rosa, her mother, was brutally murdered. She was found dead in a ditch with her pants down and her teeth knocked out. One of her many boyfriends was convicted. In court today, Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen insisted that this culminating tragedy began the deterioration of Aquelin Talamantes’ sanity. Torres blames genetics as well, stating that “even [their] brother, Hector, has mental illness.”
At one point during testimony, Torres described how she “got into it” with Tatiana’s mother when she was living in West Sacramento. As a result, Talamantes kicked Torres out and forbade her from seeing the children, but Torres, who was “always concerned about the kids,” returned in secret to bring Tatiana and her older brother, Michael, corn dogs. Torres said she had to “hush Tatiana because she was too excited.” She suddenly choked back a sob and explained, “Single mom with mental health problems and no help — no spouse; no boyfriend. I wanted to make sure they were okay.”
When Couzens asked Torres to elaborate on any mental health issues, she divulged, “Aquelin heard voices. She never told me. They wouldn’t let her sleep. She let the kids stay up all night and sleep all day. They were often dirty. They needed to see doctors.” When questioned, she responded, “Yes, the things that did get done, I had to tell Aquelin to do.”
During examination by Couzens, Torres admitted that Talamantes sometimes left her kids in the bathtub of her Davis home — “She lacked parenting skills. She was having a hard time with Medical. I gave her my Prozac, but…” Couzens leapt at the admission, demanding information regarding Talamantes’ potential drug addiction. Torres immediately shut down and returned to evasive responses that relayed little. She told the court that she partially blamed a Davis police officer, Kimberly Walker, who “did nothing when Aquelin asked.” Torres sniffed, “I felt like [Aquelin] wanted help with the kids. Professional help. She didn’t want to give them away to just anyone.”
That same afternoon, Torres, who was reassured by the police’s lack of concern regarding Aquelin’s parenting abilities, left to run errands. When she returned, a disoriented Aquelin had drowned her daughter in a bathtub and was leaving with the body in the trunk of her car.
Couzens changed his line of questioning to previous statements taken by law enforcement and suspicious messages Torres sent to Talamantes in jail. Torres addressed the questions with subdued uncertainty. Although recordings and documents were presented, she could not recall having told a detective that Talamantes often referred to Tatiana and Michael as “my stupid kids.” Torres corrected, “I meant that she said ‘my stupid life,’ not ‘my stupid kids.'”
Without hesitating, Couzens asked Torres if she recalled calling Talamantes “smart” on April 18, 2014. “I do not recall,” echoed Torres. When Couzens asked if evidence would refresh her memory, Torres decided that she did, in fact, remember her comment. However, she did not recall telling police that she was concerned Aquelin was abusing drugs. She also did not recall a series of condemning text messages, and Couzens was forced to read their content out loud: “Stay away from the police. Think unity. We have to get the story straight. Log out of Facebook and stay away from media. We have to be united.”
In later testimony, Torres reflected on Talamantes’ unstable state of mind in the weeks leading up to Tatiana’s murder. Galvanized by DDA Couzens, she declared, “I don’t think – I’ve seen it. I’ve heard her talking to herself. She is mentally ill. In the last few days, she was living with me and she was verbally abusive. She would sit in the living room, in the dark, in a corner. I did not realize how sick she was.”
Although repeatedly challenged by Couzens, Torres refused to admit she told law enforcement that she was concerned about Talamantes’ drug habits. Instead, Torres protested that she has consistently been foremost concerned with her younger sister’s mental health. Drugs were not the cause of Tatiana’s death, according to Elisa Torres. Couzens retaliated, accusing Torres of establishing a pact with her siblings to remain united and strengthen Talamantes’ insanity plea, when in reality, drugs and personal responsibility are at fault. He attested that if Torres was seriously concerned, she would not have been looking for a new place for Talamantes and the kids to live.
In cross, Fredericksen encouraged Torres to talk more about Talamantes’ childhood and their family growing up. Allegedly, Rosa Talamantes broke Torres’ arm after she was molested by her father, and subsequently tried to put her eldest daughter in the oven. She drank vodka regularly while pregnant with Hector and Aquelin. Torres suddenly sobbed, “I prayed every day holding onto a wooden cross because I knew I would be the one to take care of these kids; I prayed for their limbs to not have deformities, but I never prayed for their brains.” The words were spoken as if recited.
A second witness was called by the prosecution this afternoon — Mark Johnson, a homicide detective for the Sacramento Police Department. Johnson and Scott McLafferty were lead detectives on the Talamantes case, and their conversation with Tatiana’s mother was played in its entirety for the court. Johnson maintained that Talamantes did not do anything bizarre throughout their conversation. “She was sad, but very attentive and answered my questions appropriately.” Before Johnson joined the conversation, however, Aquelin was recorded saying, “Princess, my baby girl, oh why, why, why,” and “My baby, my baby, let’s not be in trouble…”
In cross, Johnson confessed to Fredericksen that he heard Aquelin talking on the phone with her sister, Elisa Torres, saying, “I can’t do this. I was hearing voices and seeing things. Lis, I need to go to the mental hospital, I can’t do this… Did you grab the black bag? It had all of Mikey’s stuff in it for school.”
Tomorrow, the prosecution will finish calling witnesses and it will be the defense’s turn to sway the jury. Trial will continue at 8:30am in Department 3 with Judge Mock presiding.
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