By Gloria Ho
On the afternoon of February 27, 2017, Jorge Garcia, the codefendant in the People v. Lance Richard Ornellas-Castro case, continued his testimony in Department 8 with Judge David W. Reed presiding. Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson represents the defendant and Chief Assistant Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello is representing the People. Mr. Garcia has accepted a plea agreement, and is now testifying as a prosecution witness.
The defense showed People’s Exhibit 74, the extraction report from the defendant’s cellphone containing communication details between Mr. Ornellas-Castro and Mr. Garcia. The People’s witness testified that he’s never seen the full report of the cellphone. Mr. Hutchinson asked many questions about the plans of robbery in a series of text messages between the defendant and the codefendant. After the witness responded to the defense’s voluminous questions, it was revealed that there were many plots of burglary and theft, but the two never carried out such plans.
On November 3, 2015, an outgoing message from Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s cellphone said, “Letz get this sh- goin….if there’s no evidence there’s no crime bro.”
“So it was about stealing marijuana and cutting it where no one can see?” Mr. Hutchinson asked.
“Yeah,” responded Mr. Garcia. On November 3, 2015, at 10:11am, the defendant sent a text message to Mr. Garcia that he needed money. They talked about stealing whole marijuana plants at the Delta Loop Recreation Area and further discussed about a burn site near Mr. Garcia’s house where the codefendant usually cuts marijuana plants. Ornellas-Castro did not know how to cut marijuana plants, but Garcia did and he told the defendant that they could cut the whole plants at a fishing site he knew of. The defendant, however, suggested that instead of doing it at the fishing site, they should do it at the burn site. This is the part when Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s cellphone sent an outgoing message to Mr. Garcia about no evidence meaning no crime. The defendant was referring to the stolen marijuana plants from the Delta Loop.
“Back then, marijuana was still illegal?” the defense questioned. The People’s witness gave an affirmative answer.
“When you read Detective [Brian] Young’s report, all that you saw…it seems like you were discussing killing someone, cutting them up, and feeding them to the fish,” Mr. Hutchinson said.
“Objection. Argumentative,” Deputy DA Aiello interjected. Judge Reed sustained the objection.
“You guys discussed a lot about “licks” during these two weeks, but none of them came to fruition?” Deputy PD Hutchinson asked.
“No,” Mr. Garcia answered.
“So that robbery [on December 11, 2015] you testify to would be the first time you two worked as a team?” Mr. Hutchinson questioned.
“No,” the witness testified. In the weeks leading up to the robbery, the defendant and co-conspirator did not discuss plans of robbing the victim.
The first time Mr. Garcia encountered the victim, Andrew Phaouthoum, was at the home of “W” when he accompanied one of his friends, “R”, to buy marijuana on November 30, 2015. W didn’t have marijuana at the time and asked one of his three Asian descent-looking roommates to call somebody to come over with marijuana. One of them, “Y”, called Andrew and he came over with weed. W introduced Mr. Garcia as his nephew and R as his niece. Mr. Garcia borrowed R’s money to buy an ounce of marijuana from Andrew.
“It was high quality marijuana? Better than the stuff you usually sell?” the defense asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Garcia testified.
On December 3, 2015, R had already sold the ounce of marijuana that they bought on November 30, 2015, and wanted to buy more. They met up at Food Maxx in Sacramento, where R stayed in the car and Mr. Garcia met Andrew in his Lexus. They exchanged the money and drugs in the front seat of Andrew’s car. Mr. Garcia did not remember the exact amount but he estimated that it was around one to two ounces of marijuana that he purchased from Andrew Phaouthoum that time.
Mr. Garcia met up with Andrew Phaouthoum two more times on R’s behalf to buy marijuana.
“It was always marijuana deals?” Deputy PD Hutchinson asked.
“Yeah,” the People’s witness responded.
On December 11, 2015, after he got off work at 5:09pm, Mr. Garcia texted Andrew about trying to get more marijuana. Andrew offered Mr. Garcia a deal of half a pound of marijuana for $500 even though the market price of 8 ounces was around $1,000. Mr. Garcia only had $200 at the time and needed more money. So he decided to call Mr. Ornellas-Castro about the deal and the profit that they could make from buying half a pound of marijuana at a lower price. The defendant agreed to get the money from his home in Rio Vista.
Mr. Hutchinson revealed that Mr. Garcia was the one holding the marijuana when the victim was shot.
“Where did you leave the marijuana when you went to dispose of Andrew’s body?” the defense asked.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Garcia answered.
As Mr. Hutchinson asked numerous questions about what happened on the night of December 11, 2015, it was revealed that Mr. Garcia brought Mr. Ornellas-Castro to the Bel Air parking lot with him to meet Andrew and to make the 50 percent discount deal for the half pound of marijuana. The defendant had moved to the back seat and let the victim come and sit in the front passenger seat. Andrew Phaouthoum let Mr. Garcia take a look at the weed first.
“So all that you remember is Andrew giving you the weed, you zoned out on the weed, noticed it’s not half a pound, and then hearing a gunshot?” Mr. Hutchinson questioned the People’s witness.
“Yeah,” Mr. Garcia responded.
“You look over and you see him shot in the head?” Deputy PD Hutchinson asked.
“Yeah,” Mr. Garcia repeated again. The People’s witness testified that the defendant seemed panicked and told him to drive.
“’He flexed on me,’” Mr. Garcia remembered the defendant saying repeatedly over and over.
“So you have next to you a dead body in the van?” the defense asked. The People’s witness gave an affirmative answer once again. Mr. Garcia admitted that it was his idea to dispose of the body at a fishing spot he knew. The codefendant said that he did not see any indication at all that the victim seemed alive at the time. Mr. Ornellas-Castro was in a rush to try to get rid of the body and move it out of the car. When they stopped at the fishing spot, Mr. Garcia was still sitting in the driver’s seat when the defendant was already out of the car and on the passenger side pulling the body out of the front passenger seat. Mr. Garcia testified that he did not see the gun in the defendant’s hand.
“That’s when you heard a second shot?” Deputy PD Hutchinson questioned.
“Yeah,” Mr. Garcia said as he recounted that the defendant was saying over and over at the time that the victim’s body had moved. Mr. Garcia eventually got out and helped the defendant move the body into the water. Mr. Garcia held the victim’s arms while the defendant was dragging the dead body by the legs. They ultimately threw the victim’s body into the water and got rid of things that had blood on it.
“Did Lance wanted you to get advice from an attorney for him?” Mr. Hutchinson asked.
Chief Assistant Deputy DA Aiello objected to the question and Judge Reed sustained the objection. Deputy PD Hutchinson commented that the witness must have known that he was in deep trouble when he saw the evidence piling up against him at the preliminary hearing, so he got himself a deal with the prosecution. The People objected to the comment as well, and Judge Reed once again sustained the objection.
Next, Chief Assistant Deputy DA Aiello asked the witness, “So Mr. Garcia, was this a robbery or not?”
“No,” Mr. Garcia answered, surprising the courtroom as the People’s witness’ testimony took a different turn.
“So when you talked to Detective Young on December 15, 2015, what did you tell him was the truth?” Deputy DA Aiello asked as she stood up from her seat, but did not get a response from the witness.
“Permission to continue as a hostile witness?” the People asked.
“Granted,” said Judge Reed.
“What happens to snitches?” Ms. Aiello said leaning both hands onto the desk.
“They go to PC,” said Mr. Garcia as he referred to the protective custody type of imprisonment to protect a person from harm, either from outside sources or other prisoners.
“Snitches get stitches, don’t they?” Deputy DA Aiello asked, leaning further forward.
“Yeah,” Mr. Garcia responded as he lowered his head a bit. Ms. Aiello asked the hostile witness a few more questions about the plea form his attorney filled out for him on January 17, 2016, before Judge Reed called it a day and instructed the jury that testimony will continue the next morning.
“Sometimes things go unanticipated and [they] are delayed,” said Judge Reed.
Testimony will resume at 9:00am on February 28, 2017, in Department 8, Judge David W. Reed presiding.