A captivating preliminary hearing began on the afternoon of July 2, in Department Four with Judge David Rosenberg presiding. Represented by Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt, the accused of Yolo County faces three felonies and one misdemeanor that include: Endangerment of the elderly under circumstances to produce great bodily injury or death, false imprisonment by means of violence, vandalism, and dissuasion of a witness. The accused’s alleged victim? Her mother.
On December 16, 2012, the accused allegedly terrorized and held captive her 65-year-old mother. The episode lasted 6 hours, from 9:30AM to 3:30PM, and occurred within the victim’s Woodland home. Police were telephoned by the victim early on, but decided to leave after knocking on the front door several times and receiving no response. Hours later, they were telephoned again after the victim managed to escape her home. The victim was picked up in an ambulance and her daughter was nowhere to be found.
Today, the victim was called as Deputy District Attorney Alvina Tzang’s first witness. She was asked immediately to identify the accused. The accused stared at her mother in disapproval, shaking her head back and forth and muttering. Judge Rosenberg interjected, informing the defendant that she is “not to whisper under her breath” at any time during the procedure.
Tzang quickly established that the victim’s husband died in July 2004 and she has lived alone since then. Her daughter graduated high school in 2001 and spent the night at her mother’s home only five or six times throughout the following decade. She spent the night December 15, 2012, and slept on the couch. In the morning, the victim watched Charles Stanley on the television and during this time, the defendant woke up and went outside to smoke a cigarette. When the program was over, the victim sat in a reclining chair with her morning coffee. The accused, allegedly, suddenly stood in front of her mother and without provocation, kicked the victim on the side of the head with her bare foot. She then kicked her mother on the other side of the head.
The victim stood up, disoriented, and asked her daughter, “What was that for?” She walked to her bedroom to get away, but the accused followed close behind. She hit her mother on both sides of the head again, this time with closed fists. Asked by DDA Tzang, the victim explained that her daughter “didn’t say much, except, ‘it’s all your fault’ a few times. Then I was dizzy. I said, ‘I’m dizzy, I need ice,’ and (the accused) went and got some frozen juice from the kitchen and threw it on the bed… it hit my leg and it hurt, but not much.” The accused then did something totally surprising. She crawled into bed with her mother and dozed off. The victim said in disbelief, “She was like a teddy bear.”
When the accused woke up, she slunk out of bed and began walking around the house. The victim sneaked into her bathroom and called the police. She whispered into the portable phone, “Help…My daughter’s going to kill me,” and provided her home address. She then turned off the phone and hid it under the vanity. Six to eight minutes passed before police sirens could be heard. The victim headed into the living room, intending to escape, but her daughter blocked the way and growled, “Get in the back bedroom. Shut up and don’t say a word. They’ll go away.”
Twelve feet from the front door, the victim reluctantly turned around and headed back to her bedroom. She did not want to provoke her daughter, and hoped the police would “bust down the door or break a window” if necessary. The phone rang 6 times, the victim heard knocking on the front door, and she cried out for help, but before long, all was quiet. The police had left just as the accused predicted.
At this time in her testimony, the victim began choking back tears. She sobbed, “(The accused) came back into the room and asked, ‘Where’s the phone?’ I told her where it was because I was afraid.” The accused pocketed her mother’s cell phone and disconnected the two landline phones, then she climbed into bed to cuddle for a second time. She dozed off and the victim “wanted to get away, but [she] was scared [she] would get killed.”
Again, the accused awoke and began pacing around the house, this time repeating, “It’s all your fault. They stole my ovaries. It’s all your fault.” She returned to her mother’s bedroom and punched the victim in the mouth with her fist. The victim was terrified that she had lost all of her teeth.
“Then what happened?” DDA Tzang encouraged.
“She started hitting me on the left side, my left breast and ribs… I would say 4-6 times.” Unable and unwilling to get out of bed, the victim laid in pain as her daughter left the room and supposedly picked up a decorative wooden baby Jesus, exclaiming, “Jesus didn’t die for your sins! I’m paying for them! I’m going to throw him in the fireplace!” Minutes later, the victim heard glass smashing. The accused reentered the room and announced, “I’m going to go in a little bit, but don’t call the police.” She was holding a hammer in one hand.
As if changing her mind, the accused leered over her mother and asked, “Want me to kill you now or hogtie you?”
“Hog tie me,” responded the victim, terrified. Instead, the accused curled up to cuddle with her mother in bed for the third time. The victim told the court that she thought to herself, “God, I know I’m dying, she’s going to kill me. I’m coming to heaven,” and she told herself, “You’re going to die… but you’re going to die trying to escape.”
The victim then quietly slid from the bed and managed to walk laboriously into the living room. She picked up a cell phone on the living room floor, opened the front door, stumbled outside and hid by her neighbor’s house as she called the police a second time. The voice on the other end inquired, “Was it you who called earlier?”
“Yes,” cried the victim.
“Do you need an ambulance?” asked the voice.
Knowing she was severely injured, the victim responded, “Yes.”
Once in the ambulance, a female officer informed her, “You have a busted TV in there.” The defendant’s mother had not noticed during her slow escape from the home, but she recalled the sound of glass smashing and connected the dots.
“How long were you in the hospital?” wondered Ms.Tzang.
“Two to three hours, then I went home and I saw the TV.”
“What type of TV was it?” she asked, followed by, “how much was it worth?” Ms. Tzang sought to establish the price of the accused’s vandalism.
“Sony. I’m not sure how much it cost. It was about ten years old. Probably $500 at the time. I got a flat screen replacement.”
Changing the topic back to injuries, Ms. Tzang asked the victim for her diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent physical effects. Upon arriving at the hospital, the victim had a black eye. She was given Vicodin, but, disliking the side effects, she switched to another pain killer after a few days. She was also prescribed an anti-inflammatory. “The bruises didn’t hurt, but my ribs did,” the victim expressed.
Four or five days after the incident, the victim took pictures of her bruising. The pictures were presented in court for the victim to acknowledge and were of her left breast and rib area. The bruises lasted for a couple of months and eventually the victim needed to have blood drained from her breast. She also experienced dizziness for two months whenever she tilted her head back. The example used was when she put her head back to shampoo her hair, she became dizzy for 20-25 seconds.
DDA Tzang then questioned the victim about her daughter’s mental health. The victim admitted, “She has had mental health issues. She was diagnosed with bipolar II.”
Mr. Van Zandt leapt forth, “Lack of foundation,” and Judge Rosenberg sustained his objection.
In cross-examination, Van Zandt asked the victim if she drove her car in the months after December 16, 2012. When given an affirmative answer, he prodded, “Did you have any car accidents?”
“No,” responded the victim.
“Did you hit anything you weren’t supposed to when parking?”
“No,” she repeated.
“But your bruises lasted for two months?”
“I’m guessing,” the victim relented.
“Did you take other photos of your injuries later?” Van Zandt asked suspiciously.
“Where did you pick the cell phone up that you used to call the police?”
The victim paused to think before reporting, “About a foot from the couch.”
“What would you say is the approximate height and weight of your daughter?”
“I don’t know, 5’8″ and maybe 130 or 120 something pounds.”
“The first or second time you were alone, you never took your cell phone to bed with you?”
The victim retorted firmly, “No. I never did.” She then told of the portable phone that she keeps in the bathroom on the sink in case of emergency because she is older. The bathroom is only three feet from her bedroom.
“You had two landlines and a cell phone, you said. Did you daughter have a cell phone?”
“Yes. It goes everywhere with her, but I didn’t see it.”
The victim then answered a series of questions that resulted in information that her son does not (and did not) live with her, she moved from the house where the incident took place on February 25 of this year, and she stopped sleeping in the Woodland house as of September 29, 2013.
“Did [your daughter] actually hogtie you?” Van Zandt queried, suggestively.
“Do you have mental health issues?”
“Has (the accused) contacted you since the incident?”
“When was the last time she contacted you — was it in the last year?”
“I’m not sure,” pondered the victim. “I remember the last time I saw her, but I avoided contact.”
“No further questions.”
Judge Rosenberg propositioned DDA Tzang for a re-direct, but she refused one and the victim was excused.
Ms. Tzang’s second witness was called to the stand, Officer Fair, who has served with the Woodland Police Department for 7.5 years. On the morning of December 16, 2012, Officer Fair received a call that the victim’s daughter was beating her up. She arrived at the scene promptly and listened for sounds of distress. She looked through the window and saw no one between the closed curtains. She perceived no signs of disarray. After knocking a couple times, she asked dispatch to call back, but the phone was disconnected and they “couldn’t get through.” Officer Fair was joined by another officer and they agreed to leave the scene.
Judge Rosenberg interrupted, “Is that normal procedure when an assault is called in?”
Officer Fair hesitated. “No, not standard procedure… We cannot break down the door.”
Clearly perturbed, Judge Rosenberg continued, “A 911 call alone is not sufficient to gain entrance?”
Sheepishly, Officer Fair answered, “No.”
DDA Tzang resumed her questioning. “Did you take a statement from (the victim) before she was transported to the hospital?”
“Yes. She clarified for me that her daughter used a closed fist to hit her, not a hammer.”
“Did she have any injury when you got her statement?”
“Her left eye was swollen.”
Ms. Tzang asked several more questions before Judge Rosenberg reminded her, “This is a prelim, not a trial.” Tzang backed off and Van Zandt began his re-direct.
“Did you look for the hammer after (the accused) was taken to the hospital?”
“Yes, I looked.”
“Did you find it?”
“No, I did not.”
“Was there evidence of a struggle?”
“The TV was broken.”
Mr. Van Zandt had no further questions and the second witness was excused. Before court drew to a close, Van Zandt petitioned Judge Rosenberg — “I ask that my client be held to no felonies in this case because she has no prior criminal history. I also find parts of the mom’s evidence unbelievable, such as her dizziness for 2 months.”
Judge Rosenberg pressed, “Is this based on your medical expertise?”
“No. Common sense.”
Judge Rosenberg retorted, “Common sense does not say dizziness cannot last for 2 months.”
“My client’s mother also said she was able to drive after the incident, which does not correlate with dizziness.”
“The witness said she only felt dizzy when tilting her head back. You don’t put your head back when you drive. There’s something behind it,” Judge Rosenberg said, exasperated.
Van Zandt patiently changed his concern to the hammer. “The mother’s testimony regarding the hammer changed. She couldn’t keep her story straight. That and the bruising. Bruising dissipates after several days, not months.”
“Yes, unless there is a hematoma and she did need to have blood drained.” Before Van Zandt could respond, Judge Rosenberg continued, ” Based on the pictures, this is the worst case of bruising I have ever seen. We have a situation in which a senior citizen was terrorized for 6 hours. Mr. Van Zandt, your argument borders on offensive. You are arguing that the victim should be blamed; that she did not try hard enough to escape. You are not going to go far with that defense.”
With nothing further to discuss and the day at an end, a court date was set for July 18 at 10:00AM in Department Four. The defendant stood when prompted, leaned forward, snapped her hair back, then smiled smugly as she was escorted out of the courtroom.