Witnesses Remember Kelly Choate during Lemus Trial

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YoloCourt-26By Tiffany Yeh

Brandon Bachant was Kelly’s neighbor, and he described Kelly as a “very good friend of mine.” He had known Kelly for 10.5 years. They would drink, go to BBQs, and go fishing. They would go fishing together every weekend. Bachant, Bachant’s son, and Kelly went on fishing trips together.

Mr. Bachant remembers the last day, December 5, 2015, that he contacted Kelly. That day, Bachant, his son, his son’s friend, and Kelly went fishing. They went fishing from 7am to 5 or 5:30pm. Mr. Bachant remembers that they biked on the waterways to get to the fishing spot and that Kelly beat them all to the fishing spot, despite being the oldest out of all of them.

Mr. Bachant stated that Kelly always had his (Kelly’s) fishing knife on him. Kelly used it as a utility knife the whole time – he remembers Kelly using the knife solely to eat BBQ (he didn’t use a spoon or fork). He estimated that 9 out of 10 times, Kelly had his fishing knife on him and that he would have a different knife on him 1 or 2 percent of the time. The two statistics from Mr. Bachant did not line up, but his point is probably just that Kelly had his fishing knife on him a lot.

That day, December 5, Kelly had his fishing knife, belt, and the sheath to the knife on his hip. The witness remembered seeing Kelly taking the fishing tackle out of the back of the truck after they all got home. Mr. Bachant described not having anything to drink that day, but he did not know if Kelly drunk anything.

Julian Rodriguez has known Kelly since 2004. They were next door neighbors. Mr. Rodriguez was sitting at his own front porch, and noticed that Kelly had walked past his house a couple of times. He stopped Kelly and they started talking.

When Julian had first moved into the neighborhood and before Julian and Kelly knew each other well, Kelly thought that Julian might not like him. Sometimes Kelly would have a beer and paper bag with him. Julian described not disliking Kelly, because Kelly did not do anything to him.

They would mow the lawn, put their fence up, and pull weeds together. He noticed that Kelly wears his fishing knife everyday. Kelly would clean fish with his knife when he got back from fishing. Mr. Rodriguez noticed that Kelly never threatened anyone with the knife. Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes showed the sheath, fishing knife, and Kelly’s belt to Mr. Rodriguez, and he recognized it as Kelly’s. Mr. Rodriguez stated that Kelly would wear the knife on his hip.

In 2011, Mr. Rodriguez and Jose Mendoza were talking, across the street from an argument between Maria Velli and Kelly. Kelly was on the other side of his gate, arguing with Maria and telling her, “Leave me alone,” and “Stay away from me.” This occurred three or four steps from Kelly’s car door and gate.

Mr. Rodriguez described Kelly and Maria as not getting along. Kelly did not draw a knife that day. Mr. Rodriguez had never heard Kelly threaten anyone with a knife.

Kelly was on the other side of his own gate and was saying he did not do anything. The witness and other neighbors said Kelly did not pull a knife out around Maria. Maria left. The police had come to the neighborhood because of the report of a knife pulled on someone.

Mr. Rodriguez acknowledged that Kelly has been arrested several different times.

One time, Kelly was frustrated that he could not walk on the sidewalk in front of Maria’s house or on the parallel sidewalk in front of Maria’s son’s house. So he could only walk in the middle of the street. Maria called Kelly some names and he showed her his ass. Kelly got arrested that time for indecent exposure.

When asked, Mr. Rodriguez stated that he did not know Jeff Lemus (and that Mr. Lemus is not one of his neighbors.)

On December 5, 2015, Mr. Rodriguez saw Kelly happy, tired, laughing and joking out front while unloading fishing stuff. Around 5:15-5:30pm, Kelly and everyone else went back. Kelly had his sheath, belt, and knife. They had caught a few fish. Mr. Rodriguez heard Roger Estrada “yelling, laughing, and talking loud” next door at Kelly’s house.

He stated that “Kelly never liked to go to bars,” “Kelly wasn’t a violent person,” and that Kelly did not have a reputation as a violent person in their neighborhood.

The “yelling, talking loud” stopped around 6:30pm that day.

Laurie Carter was at Kenny’s Bar & Grill the night of the stabbing. She testified that she did not hear arguing, in fact she heard silence at some point, and Roger Estrada was holding Kelly up. She had not seen the fight.

Ms. Carter turned around when Roger yelled, she ran over to Roger, told the snack bar girl to get towels, and put pressure on the wound, and called 911. Someone, it was unclear who, called 911, ran outside to see if they had come, then went back inside the bar. The victim was on the ground, looked like hugging, and someone was running out the door. Ms. Carter gave a statement to police officers that night, outside the bar, about what she saw.

Elizabeth Carlson usually worked at Kenny’s Bar on the weekends, although sometimes on weekdays also. She remembered that, on December 5, she gave Roger a hug, and said hi to Kelly that day. She said that “Kelly always had a big smile on his face when he went in there (referring to Kenny’s).”

She remembered calling 911 and turning around to see Ms. Carter get up, and that she was “screaming hysterically), while Kelly was “leaning, falling backwards.” When saying those words, Elizabeth’s voice broke.

The bar was “not especially loud” that night and about 20 or 30 people were there, she estimated. She believes Jeff Lemus got to the bar before Kelly did.

Michael (Mike) Howard was at Kenny’s Bar in Woodland on December 5, 2015. He testified that he did not see anything happen and only saw the aftermath of what happened. He stated that he was being loud, the people next to him were also loud, and so he may have heard screaming or yelling in the bar at the time, but did not recognize it.

Mr. Robinson (whose first name was unclear in the courtroom) testified that Kenny’s Bar was pretty loud that night.

Trial resumes on May 16, 2016 at 9am.

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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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