Testimony was heard today in Department 3 of Yolo County Superior Court regarding the mental health background of Aquelin Talamantes. Talamantes is the Davis, CA mother who seems to have drowned her five-year-old daughter back in September of 2012. Defense is claiming Talamantes’ mental state to be abnormal, potentially including disorders ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
Naturally, the prosecution has called upon a host of witnesses to delve more deeply into Talamantes’ mental background. Witnesses who were heard today primarily interacted with Talamantes while she was in custody, and one additional witness, a friend and sister of an ex-boyfriend to Talamantes, also testified. How the jury will interpret this evidence and what type of testimony the defense will bring forth is still to come.
The first witness for the afternoon court session was a criminologist, John Paul Lopez. One of his primary duties, according to his answers to questions from Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens, is to test urine and blood samples for drugs. This evidence is critical because it provides an opportunity to see what exactly was influencing Talamantes around the time of the murder. John Paul Lopez testified to having tested Talamantes’ blood for a wide range of street and prescription drugs, although not all the desired psychotic prescription drugs were screened for. Specifically, Lopez’ test yielded positive results for an anti-depressant and pain medicine. There was minimal cross-examination from defense counsel, with Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredricksen simply asking Lopez why there was no further screening after a negative marijuana test for only one of three testable enzymes.
The next witness called into court was Monique Brown, a staff member in the mental health division at Yolo County Jail. Ms. Brown provides services and monitoring of inmates with mental health disorders. Ms. Brown met with Talamantes frequently and even daily while Aquelin was on suicide watch for three weeks. However, when Talamantes was not on suicide watch, Brown saw Talamantes every one to four weeks. Brown said that Talamantes had mentioned being bi-polar, being a paranoid schizophrenic, and having other personality disorders. Brown asked Talamantes about the charges she is accused of and her response was, “I want my baby back, my daughter isn’t here anymore.” Around this point in the courtroom, Aquelin Talamantes could be seen crying.
DDA Couzens was persistent in clarifying key dates, with tight questions regarding how the interactions of Ms. Brown and Talamantes transpired. Ms. Brown did confirm that Talamantes had expressed desires to get off suicide watch. On November 4, 2013, Brown testified that Talamantes stated she wondered what it would feel like to be off her medications. On December 5, 2013, Talamantes was ordered to meet with a psychiatrist. On December 11, 2013 Talamantes told Brown she was feeling paranoid at the time of her daughter’s death.
During the cross-examination of Ms. Brown, she testified that Talamantes was immediately put on suicide watch upon entering the jail, because of hearing voices that were telling Talamantes to hurt herself. Fredrickson questioned Brown about her perceptions of Talamantes’ state and Brown responded that, although she could not see what was going on inside her head, Talamantes’ outward demeanor appeared depressed and fearful. After cross-examination and minimal redirect, the jury had the opportunity to pose questions to Ms. Brown. One such question inquired about individuals asserting a condition of mental illness for legal gain. Ms. Brown noted this was indeed not necessarily true in this case, but was possible. Ms. Brown believed she saw consistencies with the symptoms and diseases of Talamantes.
After Ms. Brown, Dr. Jennifer Chaffin, a psychiatrist who makes rounds at Yolo County Jail, testified regarding her experiences with Ms. Talamantes. The highlight of Chaffin’s testimony was that the doctor believed Talamantes was, on occasion, reporting new, false symptoms. Dr. Chaffin said numerous other inmates around the same time were reporting the new symptoms claimed by Talamantes. In relation to Talamantes potentially exacerbating her mental state in some fashion, Chaffin said she did not see Talamantes exhibit physical symptoms of seeing hallucinations like shifty or unfocused eyes. Chaffin said it was common for Talamantes to take on the role of a victim in general, blaming others for her circumstances.
Chaffin’s time on the stand went deeper into mental health, stating that it was possible for individuals with some degree of mental illness to then exaggerate or even under-play the existence of the disorder. Chaffin saw in Talamantes some form of personality disorder and also adjustment issues. In lieu of the statement regarding people with mental illness being afflicted more or less, Chaffin did not believe Talamantes to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Chaffin also discussed the ramifications of these conditions in terms of being biologically rooted or nurtured into an individual. Chaffin said certain mental disorders occurred more naturally in humans, while others are more greatly expressed based upon a person’s nurtured social circumstances.
During the cross-examination of Chaffin, Fredrickson provoked testimony, stating as of January 06, 2014, Talamantes was prescribed an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic, and a mild anti-anxiety medication. Chaffin stated that Talamantes had a micro-psychotic rage where she would seemingly dissociate or detach from a conversation, for example. Chaffin also noted Talamantes’ tendency to rock back and forth, potentially as a coping mechanism. Upon redirect, Couzens asked a long drawn-out vivid question about whether a psychotic rage could include drowning a daughter and then packing her in a trunk to drive away. Judge Mock disallowed this question, which forced Couzens to rephrase his inquiry.
Next on the stand was Victoria Malnar, a woman who provides anger management, parenting, and other counseling services to inmates at Yolo County Jail. Malnar testified that Talamantes admitted to having used meth, but no date was provided. Malnar stated that Talamantes had requested literature from her on the conditions of bi-polar and schizophrenia. Malnar testified further that Talamantes inquired of her about how bi-polar people act. When Malnar asked Talamantes why she wanted the material, her response was in effort to get more information about herself.
The final witness of the day was the sister of an ex-boyfriend to Talamantes. When Talamantes was pregnant with her second child, she moved into the Garcia family home of her now ex-boyfriend. The sister, Ms. Garcia, described the living arrangement with Talamantes as being okay in the beginning. However, as the arrangement continued, Talamantes began to complain to Garcia about her mother implementing too many rules. Garcia then described Talamantes as unfriendly, not talkative, and not liking rules in general. Upon cross-examination, the last time Garcia saw Talamantes was in 2012. Garcia said she would have offered to help with the children more, but was afraid Talamantes might do something drastic if something happened to the children, even like a minor scratch on her watch.
This jury will continue to hear more on this matter the rest of the week in Department 3 before Judge Mock.
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