By Gloria Ho
On December 11, 2015, defendant Lance Richard Ornellas-Castro allegedly shot a man in the head, killing him during the course of a robbery. The defendant had arranged to purchase marijuana from the victim, Andrew Phaouthoum. The defendant and his identified co-conspirator, Jorge Andres Torres Garcia, were accused of driving to a Bel Air parking lot in Sacramento County with the intent to rob the victim of marijuana. Garcia accepted a plea agreement.
Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson represents Mr. Ornellas-Castro and Chief Assistant Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello and Deputy District Attorney Matthew De Moura represent the People.
Mr. Ornellas-Castro faces multiple charges. They include Penal Code section 187(a), felony, murder; Penal Code section 12022.53(b), felony charge for personal use of firearm; and Penal Code section 182(a)(1), conspiracy to commit a felony. Additionally, it is alleged that the defendant and Garcia willfully and unlawfully conspired with one another to commit a felony violation of Penal Code section 211/212.5, robbery in the second degree.
The jury trial reconvened at 9:00am on February 22, 2017, in Department 8 with Judge David W. Reed presiding.
The People continued playing the interrogation video of Deputy Brian Young and Mr. Ornellas-Castro in the interview room at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office on January 19, 2016. The video picked up at 2:33pm and ended 3:31pm. In the video, the defendant was wearing a red 49ers T-shirt, some matching red orange shorts, with slip-ons at his feet. He was cuffed at the wrist and sitting in a chair as Deputy Young spoke to him.
“I don’t know. I think it’s his parents’ van,” the defendant answered when Deputy Young questioned him.
“I can’t go to Mexico. I have kids here,” Mr. Ornellas-Castro told Dep. Young. He then requested to talk to Jorge Garcia, but Dep. Young sidestepped the question.
After some encouragement from Deputy Young, the defendant told the story of how he wanted to go to Metro PC to get a new number for his phone. However, he paused and didn’t say much after that. Deputy Young stepped out of the room and Mr. Ornellas-Castro was seen in the video walking back and forth looking nervous. He sat down and bent over in the chair. “Oh man,” he uttered as he looked at his handcuffs. He started to cry and wipe the tears from his face and began moaning and shaking his head into his hands. “Oh dude…” He then straightened up in his seat again and drank water from the bottle. He did not appear to be able to sit still, as he moved around a lot.
The defendant stood up and went to knock on the door. The officer was with him shortly, and he asked to use the bathroom. Deputy Young questioned him when he came back.
“All you have to do is tell me what happened,” Deputy Young said to him.
“I don’t want to die.” Mr. Ornellas-Castro said, as he started to explain to Dep. Young about his affiliation with a gang. Young asked him if he had any gang tattoos, and he pointed to a few parts of his body under his shirt where he said he had art of a pistol. The officer asked him again if any of the tattoos were gang-related and he didn’t answer as confidently about it. When asked if Jorge Garcia looked up to the defendant because of the gang affiliation, Ornellas-Castro said that he thought Mr. Garcia did, in some way.
The video went on to show that the defendant talked about his kids, dropping out of school, moving with not enough money saved, the Marine life, and how he can turn his life around. Deputy Young went and retrieved the defendant’s dark blue jeans so he could put his pants on before another officer came by at around 3:17pm to take a buccal swab, a non-invasive way to collect DNA. The video ended at 3:31pm after Dep. Young said to the defendant, as they both stood up, “I’m taking you over [to the jail]. I need you to put your hands behind your back.”
The People called Dorothy Pearson, a forensic investigator, to the stand. She’s worked with Woodland PD, Sacramento PD, and retired as a lieutenant at Davis PD. She then joined the Yolo County District Attorney’s office and has been with the office for six years. Her responsibilities were to go through hard drive and cellphone evidence, analyze the data, and use Cellebrite to extract information from these devices.
“Cellebrite is a hardware program?” Deputy DA Aiello asked the People’s witness.
“It’s a hardware and a software program, but in this case we used the software,” Ms. Pearson responded. Ms. Pearson extracted and downloaded the data for four different cellphones on December 18, 2015, to December 22, 2015, after she received a search warrant signed by a judge. Also, as the investigation went on, Ms. Pearson extracted data from five additional phones by October 12, 2016. People showed Exhibit 74, which consisted of an extraction report and asked the witness to identify it. Ms. Pearson identified the report.
Next, Deputy Public Defender Hutchinson cross-examined the People’s witness. He questioned the witness as to whether she examined four phones in December of 2015, and she gave an affirmative answer.
“Under the law, there was no time limitation at that period?” Mr. Hutchinson asked. Ms. Pearson gave a positive answer and Mr. Hutchinson added that she was able to go back as far as she wanted to extract the user data. After January 2016, there was a time limitation on what can be looked at in the user’s phone. Mr. Hutchinson explained that the limitation, the time range, is what an officer can look at in a report even though the extraction download shows everything. Therefore, the officer would have to look at the time period.
“There is no way to get the parameter,” Ms. Pearson testified.
“Can you tell if there are text messages that have been deleted and not reported?” the defense asked.
“I can’t you if it has been deleted and reported.” Ms. Pearson said. “It’s the officer’s job to limit their view on the date range,” the witness later continued. On October 12, 2016, Ms. Pearson was asked to do a second download of the Samsung Galaxy phone because a search warrant asked for the range to be widened. The defense questioned why the officer did not just look at the first download where there was already a full report of everything. Ms. Pearson said she was just following the instructions of the search warrant to conduct a second extraction download.
“Objection. Your honor, I think that misstates the law of what the officer can look at,” Ms. Aiello put forward. Judge Reed said that if the witness thinks it is the law or not, she can state it. Otherwise, Judge Reed said that the attorneys should not speculate that specific law in front of the jury.
When no further questions were put forward, the witness was excused but is subject to recall.
The People then called for Deputy Brian Young to take the witness stand. He has been an officer for 13 years and a detective in the last 6-7 years at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. However, he was recently assigned to marine patrol.
Deputy Young described what he was doing on December 12, 2015. He was working overtime and was on Jefferson Boulevard in Clarksburg. However, a medical aid had called about a body in the water found by a fisherman near the intersection of Jefferson Blvd. and Courtland Rd. He went to take a look and saw evidence, pools of blood, and began his investigation. He later came into contact with the victim’s family and spoke with them.
“As part of your involvement in this case, did you look in the phone?” the People asked.
“Yes,” the witness testified. Deputy Young said that he was looking for evidence in the phone or anything that could give him a lead on the case.
At 3:25am in the early morning of December 13, 2015, Deputy Young was parked outside of Mr. Garcia’s house when he stopped an SUV that was registered to Jorge Garcia’s mother. He asked Mr. Garcia to step out of the car and he patted him down. The officer found a cellphone on Garcia’s person. Deputy Young then took more notice of the car.
“Did you notice anything?” Ms. Aiello questioned.
“There was blood just inside the driver’s side of the door,” the witness testified. He said he took a closer look at the car when it was taken into evidence and further stated, “There was a bullet inside the van and additional blood on the center console.” Deputy Young also found Mr. Garcia’s I.D. and Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s work I.D. At the time, he found no relevance for that evidence. The witness had no idea there was another accomplice in the death of the victim.
With a search warrant, Deputy Young said he searched Mr. Garcia’s residence and found marijuana located in a barn. A CSI collected the evidence.
The People showed Exhibit 56, an extraction report from the Samsung phone collected from Mr. Garcia’s person when he was stopped on December 13, 2015.
The deputy noticed that there were calls and text messages in Mr. Garcia’s phone with a person named “Joker.”
“When you took a look at the report of the phone, what occurred to you?” Deputy DA Aiello asked.
“A second suspect,” Deputy Young responded.
by Setarah Jahid
During the afternoon of February 22, 2017, witness testimony continued for the Ornellas-Castro trial. Two witnesses were called by Assistant Chief Deputy DA Melinda Aiello, the prosecuting attorney on this case. The first witness was Dr. Greg Baluyt Pizzaro, a forensic pathologist. The second witness, Detective Brian Young, a sheriff’s deputy, was called to the stand earlier in the day, but had not finished his testimony.
Dr. Pizzaro was called first to testify. He was deemed an expert, given that he has testified in court as a forensic pathologist at least eight times, and he has performed over 700 autopsies.
In December of 2015, he worked for the Forensic Medical Group. On December 14, 2015, he performed an autopsy on what was initially a “John Doe,” but was later identified as the victim, Andrew Phaouthoum. Generally, Dr. Pizarro observed cutaneous injuries, linear injuries, an entry and exit gunshot wound to the left temple, and rigor mortis, fading.
Evidence labeled as People’s #66 shown by Ms. Aiello portrayed the head of the victim, with the skin pull backed, and a rod going through the entry and exit wound. This picture showed the trajectory of the gunshot, and, because the bullet crossed through two hemispheres of the brain, Dr. Pizzaro concluded that this injury to the temple was “fatal, and death in a matter of seconds.” Dr. Pizzaro further concluded that there was only one gunshot wound inflicted on the victim, and that the gunshot wound was also the cause of death.
During cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson introduced two pieces of evidence, the first marked as Defense #316, and the second as Defense #315. Number 316 was a diagram of the brain, cut from anterior to posterior. Number 315 was a picture of the brain, and the general lobes within it.
Mr. Hutchinson pitched the point that to be dead legally has different definitions. One can be legally dead because they are brain dead, but technically still alive because of a ventilating machine. Dr. Pizzaro agreed, and stated that it is not his job, however, to state whether someone is legally dead.
Mr. Hutchinson followed up by asking if Dr. Pizzaro was aware that the decedent had THC (marijuana constituent) in his system. Aiello objected, claiming that Hutchinson’s comment was hearsay. Judge Reed sustained.
Dr. Pizzaro was dismissed, and is not subject to recall.
The final witness of the afternoon was Detective Young, resuming his earlier testimony. Ms. Aiella had him read aloud text messages between Castro and Garcia. The texts consisted of messages such as, “It’s gonna be cool bro, it will.” Message 160 in particular, stated, “[I] cleaned the car, burned the shit, because I’m scared.”
The last text message read before the court adjourned for the day stated, “If there’s no evidence, there’s no crime bro.”
Detective Young’s testimony will resume tomorrow at 9 a.m.