Talamantes Trial Continues with Mental Health Testimony

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murderby Antoinnette Borbon & Andrew Reis

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.

For more updates, follow us on Twitter @DavisVanguard #yolojustice

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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5 thoughts on “Talamantes Trial Continues with Mental Health Testimony”

  1. tj

    Likely, what Dr. Chaffin was trying to explain is that mental illnesses are highly genetic, highly hereditary.
    And they are more likely to be activated by stress and trauma in early childhood.

    It would not be “nurture”, it would be lack of nurturing, such as abuse or major family disruptions causing stress. Stress causes the body to produce chemicals which are not good for the brain and cause or worsen mental illness.

  2. Antoinnette

    So far, it is apparent that most of the children do suffer genitic disorders but have induced them by both recreational and prescription drugs and.possibly the misuse of prescriptions? After testimony today.

    Too, yes, there was abuse also…..extremely sad case….

    @tj, please send me your email…wanted to clarify a frw things and fid not have it to answer…apologize for that…

    1. tj

      Regarding drug use — It is very common and makes sense that people do try just about anything to make the voices, or depression, or the terrible stress and anxiety disappear.

      Then they’re blamed for using drugs or alcohol rather than being understood as having a precipitating mental health, mental illness issue.

  3. Tia Will

    tj

    I agree. Part of being human is choosing ways to sooth ourselves or to alter our mental state. Some choices are either harmless, or sanctioned by society, or both. Unfortunately some other choices come with very dangerous side effects. However, we as a society make two critical errors when considering the use of drugs as either recreation or medication.

    First we are inconsistent in the application of our laws. Alcohol is arguably responsible for much more harm to society than any of the currently illegal drugs and yet because of the lack of stigma and social acceptability especially amongst “upstanding people” we punish users of other drugs much more harshly.

    More importantly in this case, we have distorted the concept of cause and effect. The drugs were neither the underlying problem, nor were they, according to the toxicology study the proximate cause. In this case they are a red herring allowing the judicial system to fall back on its preconceived notion of “good guys and bad guys” and not have to deal with the underlying issue of the inadequacy of mental health care and child protection offered in our society.

  4. dl

    What do you guys think about the part where she “offered up her daughter” that morning to one of the officers?
    This is such a sad sad sad story. It breaks my heart. I am a parent. I hope to gawd that if I was ever in this situation, where I was so out of it i offered up my kids to the police – that they would take them.
    I totally agree with Tia Will. She was not a huge drug user. They tried to accuser her of meth – P.S. a meth addict does not look like this. Genetics and nurturing or lack there of!
    This poor girl never had a chance – mentally ill mother, horrible heinous upbringing, with rape and molestation as a child. Just so sad.

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