By Jackie Snyder and Lauren King
The trial of Marissa Price and Venessa McKee-Salazar began the morning of April 14, 2015, at the Yolo County Courthouse in Department 6. The co-defendant case involved an alleged carjacking that took place at approximately 6 a.m. in the morning of November 8, 2014, when two defendants, who were riding their bicycles, came across a running vehicle parked in the driveway of a residence located on Ashley Ave. Once they realized the car was vacant, they made the decision to take the vehicle.
District Attorney Kyle Hasapes delivered an opening statement that painted both defendants equally responsible for the vehicle theft. DDA Hasapes claimed that both defendants fed off each other, developing a group mentality which helped lead to their actions. Group mentality, according to DDA Hasapes, often takes place in crimes such as aiding and abetting as well as conspiracy, which was not unlike the crime(s) the defendants were being charged.
Jeff Raven, defense attorney for Venessa McKee-Salazar, went on to make his opening statement, claiming DDA Hasapes was over-dramatizing the incident that took place the morning of November 8, 2014. Mr. Raven stated that it was Marissa Price who came up with the idea to take the vehicle. McKee-Salazar expressed that she did not think it was a good idea. However, if Price did decide to take the vehicle, McKee-Salazar stated she might agree to drive the vehicle “later.” Aiding and abetting, according to Raven, takes place only when there is specific intent, which in this case is not present. McKee-Salazar was not in the vehicle when Price drove away. She may have attempted to open the passenger door to enter the vehicle, however, the door was locked. Once the owner of the vehicle came out of his house and saw what was taking place, Mr. Raven claimed his defendant made a statement along the lines of I did not do anything, I thought it was a bad idea. According to Raven, this helps prove aiding and abetting did not take place, nor was this crime facilitated.
Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance concluded opening statements. She stated this case is based on pure speculation. Lance made the claim that the prosecution is looking to the jury to validate the claims made and, while there is no disputing that the car was taken, anything beyond that is speculation. Price urged the jury to ignore the prosecution and listen to the evidence.
The first witness called to testify was the victim in this case. The victim testified that on the early morning of November 8, 2014, he, along with his nine-year-old stepdaughter, were getting ready to spend the morning helping the Legion Hall by placing flags up in preparation for Veterans Day. The victim stated that it was common for him to leave his vehicle running in his driveway every morning in an effort to warm up the vehicle. The victim believed his neighborhood to be safe and never believed his vehicle would be stolen. The victim stated that, while he was brushing his teeth, he heard female voices outside his window. He thought that his stepdaughter had gone outside to look for him and could possibly be trying to get into his car. However, after he exited the bathroom and discovered his stepdaughter in the living room, he realized something else was taking place. The victim then ran out the front door in time to see both defendants in the driveway. Price was behind the wheel of his vehicle, which was backing up and McKee-Salazar was outside the vehicle near the passenger side. Once Price realized the victim had exited the house, she scrambled to put the car in drive and “gunned” it down the street, heading north on Ashley.
The victim testified that he made an effort to stop Price from taking his vehicle by pounding on the passenger door and yelling at her to stop. The victim’s hand was still on the passenger side door when Price put the car in drive. The force of the car jerking forward caused the victim to fall to his knees. Once the vehicle disappeared down the street, the victim focused all his attention on McKee-Salazar, who was still standing in the driveway. The victim testified that he restrained her and shouted for his girlfriend to contact the police. While waiting for the police, McKee-Salazar made statements to the victim warning him to stop restraining her and let her go, because she had a “bad temper” and “knew people.”
Court was then dismissed for break. Once the jury had exited the courtroom, Ms. Lance asked that the judge declare a mistrial. She claimed that during Mr. Raven’s opening statement he repeatedly referred to Price as the person who was driving the stolen vehicle. Lance believed that it looked unfavorable to her client (Price) due to the fact that one of the attorneys for the defense was placing Price behind the wheel of the stolen vehicle. Judge Reed denied the request for a mistrial, based on the fact that earlier, while giving instructions to the jury, he made the comment that opening statements were not evidence in the trial and therefore should not be a factor when deciding the verdict.
The trial of Venessa McKee-Salazar and Marissa Price continued on the afternoon of April 14, 2015, at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse. Deputy District Attorney Kyle Thomas Hasapes called Officer Ruben Escobar to the witness stand.
Officer Escobar has worked for the Woodland Police Department for five and a half years and was on duty the morning of November 8, 2014. Around 6:05 a.m., the officer received a dispatch call for service at a residence on Ashley Ave. in Woodland. The service call mentioned that a vehicle had been stolen and, in between three and five minutes, Officer Escobar arrived at the scene.
The sun was out and it was a normal November morning. The officer noticed a female seated on the curb and a male standing in a driveway near the female. Officer Escobar recognized Ms. McKee-Salazar from previous contacts and was aware of her periodic association with Ms. Price. A bicycle was lying down in the driveway and a second bicycle was lying in a nearby bicycle lane. The officer recognized the blue bicycle as one that he had seen Ms. McKee-Salazar ride in the past.
The victim in this case was the resident of the address. He sustained scrapes to his right hand and right knee. The victim believed that Ms. McKee-Salazar was trying to enter his vehicle due to her posture and proximity. When confronted by the victim, Ms. McKee-Salazar denied any wrongdoing. He never spoke with Ms. Price.
There were backpacks on the ground at the scene, which were booked into safe-keeping at the Woodland Police Department. Officer Escobar was informed that the other bicycle belonged to Ms. Price, but he did not take her statement.
Ms. McKee-Salazar’s statement was not recorded by law enforcement. It was reported, however, that she altered her statement several times and repeatedly claimed that she had done nothing wrong. Further, she told law enforcement that another person she was with was the person who planned to steal the victim’s vehicle.
Court was adjourned for the day and the case was expected to reach a conclusion the following morning.