Editor’s note: This article is based on Friday morning’s trial proceedings
Based on a single observance of Daniel, his best friend and his girlfriend, DJUSD Prevention and Crisis Manager Jen McNeil determined that the three had an “unhealthy level of closeness,” which was led by Daniel. This was determined by watching them interact while waiting to talk to counselors. They wanted to be together to provide support for each other in the counseling appointment, which McNeil found unusual.
When counseled separately, the girlfriend would ask to leave to talk to Daniel, which made McNeil believe he was the “leader.” McNeil explained that, as a leader, Daniel was the one they went to for emotional support, “not manipulation” or control.
McNeil put a stop to the group being seen together because she felt there was emotion contagion, which occurs when one person takes on the emotion of another when they are together.
McNeil had one visit with Daniel on February 1, 2013, due to Daniel having an outburst and punching someone. McNeil explained that Daniel sat in her office for 10 minutes without saying anything. Once McNeil explained her job and confidentiality, Daniel became very interested, asked questions and began to relax.
Daniel did not trust McNeil due to his experience with school counselor Monica O’Brien reporting his personal thoughts to police. Daniel had been describing feelings that had occurred in the past, not while he was talking to O’Brien, yet O’Brien breached confidentiality. Daniel explained to McNeil that he had had no intent to act upon those feelings and had been released back to class after assessments by Jordan Mulder (the school psychologist) and the police officer.
Daniel’s lack of trust manifested in Daniel’s being unable to share information about the punching incident. Daniel told McNeil he would talk to Mulder.
Ms. McNeil interpreted Daniel’s behavior as a power struggle. McNeil felt Daniel was very intelligent and had knowledge about confidentiality far superior to his peers. McNeil believed Daniel was sizing her up, in a power struggle or game. McNeil did not feel Daniel was complimenting her when he said she was very good at her job after she explained confidentiality. McNeil was not used to students asking the questions and felt Daniel was controlling the conversation. McNeil testified that his demeanor did not seem, however, like he was trying to control her. When asked if “he was just seeing if you were a therapist he could trust,” McNeil responded with a “yes.”
David Guerrero, a resource specialist and special education teacher at Davis High School, took the stand next. Guerrero taught three of Daniel’s classes, two of which were called “Education Fundamental Classes.” In these classes, emotionally disturbed students would get support, have quiet time, hang out with peers or get prepared for their other classes.
Guerrero described Daniel as an extremely intelligent, respectful and “quiet young man” who was often tardy, but not disruptively late. Daniel sat in the back left corner of the class and was “very quiet.” Daniel would reluctantly participate and was never difficult in class. Daniel used 40% of the class time on academics.
Guerrero’s job included trying to engage the students, build a connection/relationship so students could explain their needs. Guerrero stated that Daniel was sad, but would not talk to Guerrero about why. Guerrero described being told about an incident where Daniel was bullied in the locker room. Daniel’s mother (whom Guerrero described as “very involved”) informed Guerrero about the bullying and asked that Guerrero not approach Daniel about the incident. Daniel’s mother did not want to breach Daniel’s trust.
Daniel’s depression was obvious, Guerrero felt it was “always a good day or period if I (Guerrero) could make him (Daniel) laugh.”
Guerrero explained that, after Daniel’s hospitalization in December 2012, Daniel seemed to be improving. Daniel participated in group activities in geometry class, caught up in classes, and received an award for “student of the month” in May, 2013.
May of 2013 was the same month Daniel was expelled from school for carrying a knife on campus. Guerrero stated Daniel was pulled from his class that day, but Guerrero did not find out about the knife until later.
Guerrero attended the pre-expulsion meeting at the request of Daniel’s mother. Mulder, the school psychologist, asked questions from a form. Daniel said he had the knife because he felt threatened by people off campus and by students. Mulder warned Daniel that he could have harmed himself with the knife. Daniel stated he was trained in karate and how to use a knife and he would never harm anyone.
During the meeting Daniel was informed that his “best friend” Alvaro had reported Daniel for carrying the knife. Daniel responded, “I can’t believe he did that,” and appeared upset. Daniel was then told to stay away from Alvaro.
Daniel was told to leave campus after the pre-expulsion meeting, but Guerrero observed him returning and he confronted Daniel. Daniel said he was waiting for his girlfriend and headed off campus. Guerrero discovered later that Daniel did not leave campus, but confronted Alvaro.
Throughout his testimony Guerrero explained the Davis High School procedures used to enable Daniel’s academic success. This included a yearly Individualized Education Plan (IEP). A team meets yearly to set goals and include the student in as much general education as possible. Daniel’s plan included methods to help with his emotional issues, which were impairing his ability to learn.
Guerrero was not involved in Daniel’s transition meeting from Junior High but received his file (13 pages) one to two days prior to school commencing. A Learning Center Confidential Profile was developed and provided to all the staff involved with Daniel.
A quarterly meeting was held to determine Daniel’s progress toward goals.
A re-entry meeting was held after hospitalization to determine changes to the IEP and establish a “safety plan.”
March 29, 2013, was Daniel’s yearly IEP. Daniel’s improvement since January 2013 was noted several times. The IEP resulted in a 29-page document.
A “Manifestation of Termination” meeting was held to determine if Daniel’s disability, being emotionally disturbed, played a role in Daniel’s carrying the knife, and to set up a new IEP.
The pre-expulsion meeting was held to question Daniel about the knife and inform him of his expulsion.
Javier Farias, a DOJ fingerprint analyst, was then called to testify about fingerprints. Farias explained that he received 18 latent fingerprints from the crime scene. Farias obtained elimination prints from the victims. Farias was provided 31 names and subjects to compare the prints, many of which had the Northup surname.
Three of the latent fingerprints were identifiable. Two belonged to the victims, and one belonged to a Justin Gibbs. None of the fingerprints were compared to Daniel’s prints.
The witness was excused.
The last witness of the morning was Robert Wilson, a criminalist who specializes in footwear identification.
Wilson thought a footprint could be lifted from a loveseat cushion. Wilson observed bark, dust and pressed fabric on the cushion. It was below an open window with a cut screen.
Wilson’s electrostatic lift back procedure for lifting shoe impressions did not reveal a pattern that could be compared. Wilson stated that duct tape on the bottom of the shoe would make it much more difficult to see wear marks or defects in shoes.
The witness and jury were dismissed for lunch.
Judge Reed discussed Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson’s desire for gory images that Daniel posted on the website Tumblr to be withheld from the jury. Johnson was not objecting to talking about the Tumblr images, but to displaying them. Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral stated they would not be displayed this afternoon. Judge Reed determined they would meet Monday to discuss the admissibility.
Update and correction: The author was able to clarify on 9/15/14 that the evidentiary discussion on Friday, 9/12/14, was referring to images on the website “Tumblr,” not to images of “the tumbler.”