Judge Rules on Admissibility of Negotiations in Opening Statements of Murder Trial

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By Tiffany Yeh

Judge David Reed ruled that settlement negotiations were not admissible in the opening statements of the Lance Ornellas-Castro trial. Lyrics written by Mr. Ornellas-Castro (including the words “thug life”), mentioned in a text he sent to Jorge Garcia, are admissible in opening statements. Mr Garcia was a co-defendant in the case and pled out last month.

Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello was not planning to include references to gang tattoos in her opening statement, so the admissibility of the tattoos for the opening statements was not discussed at length.

Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson requested that the judge allow him to include information about the negotiations on behalf of Mr. Garcia between Attorney Rod Beede and Ms. Aiello.

Mr. Hutchinson stated that Mr. Beede asked Ms. Aiello if an offer could be made, with his client willing to testify, but stating that there was no robbery, in exchange for a determinate sentence. Ms. Aiello rejected Mr. Beede’s offer, but they continued to negotiate.

Mr. Hutchinson emphasized that Mr. Garcia was promised things by Ms. Aiello, such as a determinate offer of 7 to 14 years at half time, and an outside chance of (…). “Much more was offered…”, Hutchinson stated. Then the contract that was written up ignored the promises made to Mr. Garcia.

But on the actual contract written up, it stated that Mr. Garcia only needed to testify to the truth (this was after Mr. Garcia changed his story and stated that the event was a robbery.)

Because of the day of severance, no determinate sentence was given. Mr. Beede told Mr. Garcia what he had to testify to.

Mr. Garcia had maintained that there was no robbery up until a point, and it appears that Mr. Hutchinson is arguing that the settlement negotiation had an impact on Mr. Garcia’s change of story. Mr. Garcia then changed his story to that the incident was a robbery.

Judge Reed stated that he has not known the discussion of settlement negotiations to be allowed in a trial in a courtroom, ever. He stated that he needed authority (meaning past cases) on the discussion of settlement negotiations allowed in trial.

When questioned by Judge Reed about why the negotiations between the two attorneys should be allowed in opening statements, Mr. Hutchinson stated that it goes to the effect on Mr. Garcia and is relevant to motive.

Mr. Hutchinson requested a continuance of a week to gather authority on the subject and also to seek some method of relief. Judge Reed denied the continuance and rejected the admission of a discussion of settlement negotiations between Mr. Beede and Ms. Aiello in opening statements. However, discussion of the formal contract between the client (referring to Mr. Beede’s client) and Ms. Aiello is allowed.

Mr. Hutchinson, if having Mr. Ornellas-Castro testify and answer questions, can discuss to an extent the settlement negotiations but not Ms. Aiello’s response to those negotiations. Mr. Hutchinson is allowed to mention the written contract between Mr. Beede and Ms. Aiello.

Mr. Hutchinson stated that he has proof (including proof that will not trod on the attorney-client privilege) of the negotiations between the two attorneys.

The most striking part of the issue is that Mr. Hutchinson stated that the formal contract made between Mr. Beede and Ms. Aiello was not what they agreed to beforehand.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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