by Jagjit Bath and Ruby Zapien
Detective Brian Young’s testimony continued under Judge David W. Reed in Department 8. Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson questioned the witness regarding the interrogation video of the defendant, Lance Ornellas-Castro, by Young. Mr. Hutchinson also displayed a few pictures of Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s car. After Young identified the car, Mr. Hutchinson continued asking him what he found in the car.
“Did you find marijuana in Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s car?” Mr. Hutchinson asked Detective Young, a sheriff’s deputy.
Det. Young responded with yes.
Then Mr. Hutchinson continued asking Det. Young about what else he found or saw in the car, and in reply Young mentioned that he also saw blood on the side of a seat. After the morning recess, Mr. Hutchinson resumed the questioning, with Defense’s Exhibit 314, regarding what conversation Det. Young had with the defendant on their way to the jail from his house. Det. Young said that he was just being open with the defendant and was trying to get to the truth. He wanted to know details from both parties. Mr. Hutchinson then asked Young when the last time was that he had reviewed the videos or seen the reports. Det. Young responded that the last time he reviewed the video was when he had to write a report, but that he had reviewed his notes recently.
Then Mr. Hutchinson asked Det. Young about the search warrant, whether he had looked for things related to the case, and Young answered yes. Hutchinson asked if he, for instance, was “looking into marijuana possession, evidence of sales of marijuana, etc…” Det. Young replied with another yes. Young was also asked, “Can you give me a rough estimate of hours you spent on reviewing the evidence?” But even Det. Young was not sure about how many exact hours he had spent on the evidence, so he gave an answer of “let’s say 20 hours.”
Moving on, Mr. Hutchinson asked Young if he had seen any other text messages before October 23 besides the conversation between Mr. Ornellas-Castro and Mr. Garcia (former co-defendant Jorge Garcia, who pled out). Young replied affirmatively. Hutchinson then asked Young if he had seen call logs and whether he noticed if there was any call made to Jorge’s phone number. Young said, “Yes, I did.”
Regarding People’s Exhibit 74, the cellphone extraction report, Mr. Hutchinson asked, “With this text message the best approach to know the answers regarding the conversation are Mr. Ornellas-Castro and Mr. Garcia, correct?” Young responded with a yes.
Murder Trial Presumed to Take Two More Weeks
by Ruby Zapien
In the afternoon of February 23, 2017, Department 8 reconvened the murder trial of the People v. Lance Ornellas-Castro. Before the jury was allowed in the courtroom, the court discussed the timeline for the remainder of the trial. It was suggested that the testimony of Mr. Jorge Garcia, the former co-defendant in this case, would take all day tomorrow, and the trial in its entirety would not resume until the second week of March.
The jury entered the courtroom, and the defense continued with their cross-examination of Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Young, a detective. Following his testimony, the People were to show a video of the ride from Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s home to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, where the county jail is located.
On the projector was a spreadsheet of text messages. Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson read a few aloud. The texts mentioned “chopping ‘it’ up,” “it’s perfect fish food, don’t you know its part of their diet.” Another text read, “Let’s get this shit going…if there’s no evidence, there’s no crime bro.”
Mr. Hutchinson brought up the idea that context is important when reading text messages – without any context, these texts could be frightening, but they could be referring to the cutting and trimming of marijuana.
Chief Assistant DA Melinda Aiello approached Detective Young with the Defense’s Exhibit 319, as seen before the lunch break. She asked if he saw anything else in the image that was relevant. Det. Young pointed out the pack of Blacks [cigars], a pair of safety glasses and the orange lanyard from Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s work I.D. The People then showed the witness People’s Exhibit 85 and People’s Exhibit 86, both images extracted from Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s cellphone. The former image depicted an open palm holding marijuana and the latter depicted an open palm holding a revolver.
“We talked a lot about a ‘Lick,’” stated Ms. Aiello. She then asked if a “Lick” involved theft. “Always used in basic terms as a robbery,” answered Det. Young.
“A robbery is a form of theft?” followed Ms. Aiello. Det. Young affirmed.
Ms. Aiello finished her questioning by asking Det. Young if he “felt like [he] got everything that night.”
“No, I don’t believe so,” responded Det. Young.
Mr. Hutchinson cross-examined by asking Det. Young whether the amount of marijuana was similar to the amount that was found in the garage or the van. Det. Young confirmed that they were not the same amount.
Returning to Ms. Aiello’s last question. Mr. Hutchinson pointed out that, in the interrogation video, you could see that Mr. Ornellas-Castro was not tired, nor did he ever claim to be. “If you believed you didn’t have enough information, why didn’t you continue asking him questions… At the time of the interrogation, did you believe you had enough evidence?” Det. Young affirmed that he believed at the time that he had enough evidence.
Mr. Hutchinson then asked Det. Young about his knowledge at the date of the interrogation of a second bullet wound, and his methods of looking for the second bullet. Finally, Mr. Hutchinson asked whether or not it was uncommon for people who sell large amounts of drugs to carry guns. “No,” answered Det. Young. “Mr. Ornellas-Castro told you he believed Andrew Phaouthoum had a gun?” Det. Young answered, “Yes.”
“[Ornellas-Castro] could have told you [Andrew Phaouthoum] had a gun and thrown it in the river and never found one?”
“Correct,” replied Det. Young.
Det. Young was dismissed, and the People began a video of a camera recording of the transportation from the defendant’s house to the sheriff’s department. Mr. Hutchinson clarified to the court that portions of the video were edited out.
The video was clearly shot sometime in the night. It was very dark, and one could barely see a uniformed officer standing with another individual in front of a marked police vehicle. The audio was of a male speaking to a dispatch officer. The conversation discussed the care of Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s children and about informing the mother of the situation at hand. Mr. Ornellas-Castro was read his Miranda rights, and there was a brief silence. Ornellas-Castro then asked how long the ride was going to be due to the fact that he had to use the restroom. At one point, the defendant was heard complaining about the tightness of the cuffs and an officer attempted to loosen them for him. A few more vehicles appeared on the screen and, shortly after, the vehicle drove off.
For a period, the video only showed long, single-lane, unlit roads. The ride was not quiet. The detective and Mr. Ornellas-Castro had various conversations, ranging from the job he recently obtained, his educational background, his tour in Afghanistan, familial relationships, friendships, how he met his wife and stories of previously being pulled over. Ornellas-Castro showed no concern in his tone; he was chuckling and conversing in a normal fashion.
The defendant frequently asked about the whereabouts of his wife. He showed sincere concern for his children and wanted to make sure his wife arrived at the house to care for them. She had been at work at the Dixon Walmart.
“I was sleeping with my daughter, and I heard all the noise, I didn’t want you to throw gas in or something….” Mr. Ornellas-Castro began to tell the detective. However, at that point Mr. Hutchinson asked to pause the video and approach the bench. Judge Reed used this opportunity to release the jury for their afternoon break.
There appeared to be discrepancies between the video and the transcription of the video submitted into evidence. Sections that were to be omitted were omitted in the video, however, they still appeared in the transcript. Counselors attempted to come up with an unanticipated resolution to the problem, to no avail.
When the jury returned, Judge Reed explained how the video no longer reflected the transcript, and the court would resume the video at a later date.
With this unexpected technical difficulty, the People recalled Deputy Stephanie Gill, a CSI with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, to the stand. Ms. Aiello wanted to tie up some loose ends from her previous testimony. Ms. Aiello asked Dep. Gill to identify certain evidence items by their evidence number. Dep. Gill identified: the collected sample with possible tissue obtained from the back of the van; the swab from the van; a swab of Mr. Garcia; a DNA sample from the victim Andrew Phaouthoum; a pair of jeans; vehicle swabs from Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s home; and two cellphones located at the River Road residence.
The following line of questioning from Ms. Aiello was about the measurements Dep. Gill took of the Toyota Sequoia van that belonged to Mr. Garcia. Dep. Gill referred to her record to describe the various measurements of the seats of the vehicle and the distance between the middle driver’s side seat and the passenger seat. Ms. Aiello then showed Dep. Gill People’s Exhibits 88-92, all of which Dep. Gill could identify as images she had taken of the van from multiple vantage points.
People’s Exhibit 88 was published and projected for the court to see. Dep. Gill used a laser pointer to demonstrate the distance measured between the right corners of the middle driver’s side seat to the left edge of the passenger seat. Dep. Gill described how measurements were taken with the seats pushed all the way back and all the way forward. Then, she moved the passenger seat to where she believed it aligned with the blood droplets found in the van.
Ms. Gill explained that moving the seats was necessary because, when they received the vehicle, the passenger seat was reclined all the way and the middle passenger side seat had been folded down and pushed against the driver’s seat. This seating arrangement did not correspond with the blood in the vehicle.
The clock hit 3:30 p.m. and Judge Reed dismissed the jury until the following morning at 9:00 a.m. in Department 8.
Once the final juror left the room, the court could discuss the attorney-client privilege issue between Mr. Garcia, who previously pled out, and Mr. Rod Beede, his attorney.
Mr. Beede took the stand and both parties were only permitted to ask about his representation of his client when the plea agreement was negotiated.
Mr. Hutchinson asked Mr. Beede about multiple conversations between Mr. Beede and Ms. Aiello between the dates of January 13, 2017, and January 15, 2017. However, Mr. Hutchinson began to question Mr. Beede on statements made by Mr. Garcia. Judge Reed interrupted.
“The issue is what he told Ms. Aiello.” The judge objected to Mr. Hutchinson’s question and ordered him to stay within the scope. Mr. Hutchinson then decided to read directly from a handwritten sheet of paper that contained Ms. Aiello’s notes of the discussions between her and Mr. Beede. Mr. Hutchinson would read segments and ask Mr. Beede to recall the exact conversation.
“I told Ms. Aiello precisely what is referenced in those notes,” said Mr. Beede. “[Garcia] did not expect Lance was going to kill. Mr. Ornellas-Castro was carrying a gun to scare Andy and take his dope.”
Mr. Hutchinson read a statement about “everything going smoothly.” Mr. Beede indicated that his client was prepared to report that what was going on between himself and the victim was going smoothly, there were no harsh gestures or language from Andrew Phaouthoum.
As they continued, Mr. Beede appeared to grow irritated with the line of questioning. He repeatedly mentioned Mr. Hutchinson’s previous appraisals of Mr. Beede’s long record as an attorney when he could not recall specific conversations between himself and Ms. Aiello.
Finally, Mr. Hutchinson brought up two voicemails from January 13 and 14. After showing Mr. Beede transcriptions of these voicemails, Mr. Beede said, “I looked at this the other day, and I’ve seen it now.”
The first voicemail was Mr. Beede on Ms. Aiello’s phone, stating that his client wanted to think about things overnight. Mr. Beede explained that the whole situation was very heavy on his client.
The voicemail from the 14th was also from Mr. Beede to Ms. Aiello, saying that “before I tell you specifically what he’s ready to say, I need to know how my client is going to fare out of this.”
Mr. Beede suggested that in this voicemail there are three key components. First, he needed to think about it. Next, Ms. Aiello was required to clear it with the victims, and finally she needed to clear it with the district attorney of Yolo County.
Finally, Mr. Hutchinson wanted to clarify that Mr. Garcia never got any assurance that he was going to get something reasonable for making his statement. Mr. Beede stated that his client understood he would get something determinant or his statement would not be usable.
Mr. Beede is ordered to return to the court on March 2, 2017, at 9:00 a.m. in Department 8.
Department 8 will resume the discussion of Mr. Garcia and Mr. Beede’s attorney-client privilege at 8:45 a.m. on February 24, 2017, in Department 8.