By Gloria Ho
On the morning of February 24, 2017, Senior Crime Scene Investigator Stephanie Gill’s testimony continued in Department 8 at Yolo County Superior Court, with Judge David W. Reed presiding. Chief Assistant Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello questioned the People’s witness about the vehicle Jorge Garcia, the co-defendant in the case, was stopped in by Detective Brian Young on December 13, 2015. CSI Gill explained what she found in the car in addition to a slug that is relevant to the murder case against defendant Lance Richard Ornellas-Castro.
The People showed Exhibit 88, which consisted of a photo from the driver’s side looking at the front seats from behind. CSI Gill explained the measurements she took from the front seats to the back seats and what positions she found the seats to be in when she first encountered the car on December 15, 2015. The People also displayed Exhibit 89, a photo of the rear passenger seats from the driver’s side, Exhibit 90, a photograph of the back seats from the passenger’s side, Exhibit 91, a picture of the front passenger seat with the door open looking toward the back of the car, and Exhibit 92, a view from the front passenger seat with CSI Gill leaning into the vehicle to take a close up image.
“When you saw the body of Mr. Andrew Phaouthoum, did he have any tattoos?” the People questioned.
“I don’t recall that he had any major tattoo,” CSI Gill responded.
Next, Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson cross-examined the People’s witness.
“You found blood smeared and droplets in various parts of the vehicle?” Mr. Hutchinson began. CSI Gill gave an affirmative answer and explained that the majority of blood droplets were near the center console that was wiped clean. Also, she found droplets of blood on the driver’s side carpet. CSI Gill testified that her responsibility as a finder in the investigation was to search for pertinent evidence at Garcia’s residence in the murder case.
The defense displayed People’s Exhibit 38, a photograph of marijuana found in the barn of the residence that consisted of three ziplock bags and one grocery bag containing marijuana. The marijuana found was weighed in different amounts in each bag: 28.7 grams, 14.02 grams, 13.4 grams, and 6.68 grams. CSI Gill referred to the barn as the garage of Mr. Garcia’s parents’ home. Mr. Hutchinson showed defense’s Exhibit 318, a photo of marijuana found in the center console of the parked car, a Toyota Sequoia, at the residence registered to Mr. Jorge Garcia. The marijuana found in the Toyota Sequoia was in a ziplock bag weighed at 17.01 grams.
After CSI Gill finished searching the residence and the van, she went back to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office to process the evidences. CSI Gill also testified that, while she was searching the van, she found a slug underneath a pair of pajama bottoms. CSI Gill was the first person to find and see the slug. Deputy PD Hutchinson showed defense’s Exhibit 321, the photograph of the slug after removing the pajama bottoms that covered the evidence in the back of the front passenger seat.
“The van was not secured by the Sheriff’s Office until December 15, 2015?” the defense questioned.
“That’s correct,” CSI Gill testified. After answering some more questions about two Metro PCS receipts found in the van and an LG Optimus phone given to Detective Young by the victim’s brother, Mitchell Phaouthoum, the People’s witness was excused from the stand and is subject to recall.
Mr. Jorge Garcia, 23, the codefendant in the case who has accepted a plea agreement, was called by the People to take the stand. Criminal Defense Attorney Rodney Beede represents Mr. Garcia, but he was not present in court and Criminal Defense Attorney J. Toney covered for him.
“Why are you in Yolo County Jail?” Deputy DA Aiello began.
“Uh, involuntary manslaughter, robbery, conspiracy to a robbery…” Mr. Garcia responded and his sentence trailed off.
“Are you sure?” the People asked.
“I believe so,” Garcia responded. Mr. Garcia is in court to testify about what happened because he made a deal with the prosecution. He testified about being moved to a single cell because he became an asset in the case.
Mr. Garcia was asked a series of questions of his life and how he came to be involved in the murder case. He attended a vocational school after finishing high school. Subsequently, he worked at a body shop for six months in Rio Vista in 2012. Mr. Garcia decided to go back to college at Sacramento City College. However, he dropped out after six months and worked from job to job.
When Mr. Garcia was questioned about how he made money he responded, “Working for most part, and sell marijuana on the side.”
“Did you ever grow it?” the People asked.
“At my house, or I don’t know, the fields,” Mr. Garcia testified. He went on to tell the court that he’s been selling marijuana since high school and also makes “wax,” a marijuana active ingredient, by extracting THC from the marijuana in a really concentrated form. Mr. Garcia testified that he made wax in the garage of his parents’ home.
When asked if he knew who “RB” is, Mr. Garcia responded that she is a friend he’s know for about three to four years. He testified that he met his supplier, a guy named “W,” through RB. W supplied Mr. Garcia with marijuana from time to time, at a quarter of a pound. He stopped buying from W after selling marijuana for a while, due to his busy working schedule.
After dropping out of college, Mr. Garcia worked at Taco Bell for 8-9 months, where he met defendant Lance Richard Ornellas-Castro. When Mr. Garcia started working at Taco Bell, Mr. Ornellas-Castro was already employed there. Although they met at work, they didn’t establish any relationship until the defendant’s wife, “M,” a friend Mr. Garcia grew up with, introduced them. Mr. Garcia then identified the defendant in the courtroom.
“How do you describe the relationship?” Deputy DA Aiello asked.
“Kind of casual. Just work,” the witness responded.
“Did you exchange numbers?” the People asked.
“Objection. Leading,” Mr. Hutchinson interjected.
“Sustained,” said Judge Reed.
Mr. Garcia recounted the story of how they began hanging out and smoking weed together. They also exchanged text messages and phone calls. However, a few months before Garcia stopped working because of something that happened with the manager, Ornellas-Castro had quit. Even though they both had left Taco Bell, they stayed in contact. When the defendant moved away from Rio Vista, there were no communications for a period of time, until Ornellas-Castro moved back to Rio Vista and initiated contact with Garcia in the beginning of 2015. The defendant had called Garcia to talk about job-hunting together.
The two began to hang out again and buy drugs together, specifically cocaine.
“What was the defendant’s role in the purchase of cocaine?” Deputy DA Aiello questioned.
“The middleman,” the witness testified. Mr. Ornellas-Castro fronted the money and Mr. Garcia would pay him back. They purchased the cocaine from a seller in Stockton that the defendant was familiar with.
Mr. Garcia was fired from a job he had at an orchard in mid-summer of 2015. Subsequently, the defendant told Garcia to go work at a temp agency that he was currently working at. Garcia believed that Ornellas-Castro wanted him to work there so that he could give the defendant a ride to work.
They texted while working together, and the conversations were mostly about work and setting people up. They used the word “lick” to talk about burglary and “come up,” which means to make money. Mr. Garcia said it was a different way to say that they were setting up people or robbing them.
The People showed Exhibit 75, a report of all the text messages exchanged between the defendant and codefendant. There was a highlighted text message from the defendant to Mr. Garcia saying, “I need to come up. Do you have anything I can hit?”
“What was it referring to?” the People questioned.
“A lick,” Mr. Garcia testified.
There were many text messages about robbery, breaking into a house that grew weed, and stealing at an ATM.
On November 3, 2015, an outgoing message from Mr. Ornellas-Castro’s cellphone said, “Letz get this shit goin….if theres no evidence theres no crime bro.”
On November 4, 2015, an incoming message from Mr. Garcia said, “I’m broke af.” The defendant replied with a text that said, “Me too which is y we needa hit these licks.”
They exchanged more text messages talking about burglary and plans to rob.
On November 30, 2015, Mr. Garcia went to W’s house to visit and purchase marijuana with RB, who was the only one who wanted to buy initially. They talked to W and three of his roommates. One of the roommates’ names was “Y.” After discussing about buying marijuana to sell, Y called one of his friends to come over to the house to make contact and sell to Mr. Garcia.
“What was his friend’s name?” Deputy DA Aiello asked.
“Andrew,” the witness testified. “He showed us the weed and we exchanged numbers.”
Jorge Garcia then bought one ounce of marijuana from Andrew Phaouthoum at W’s house after he came over.
By Ryan Gonzales
Following the afternoon break, Department 8 resumed witness testimony in the People v. Lance Ornellas-Castro case. Jorge Garcia, who is a co-defendant but has accepted a plea deal, took the witness stand with Chief Assistance Deputy DA Melinda Aiello representing the prosecution.
Ms. Aiello began the examination by inquiring about the relationship of Mr. Garcia and the victim, Andrew Phaouthoum, who died of a gunshot wound to the head at the age of 21. In regard to their relationship, Mr. Garcia told the court that Andrew had sold him an ounce of marijuana in Sacramento at a Food Maxx parking lot.
After the transaction of the drugs, Mr. Garcia testified that he called Andrew two weeks later on December 11, 2015, the day of Andrew’s death.
When the prosecution asked why Mr. Garcia had called Andrew, Mr. Garcia testified that he wanted to set up a drug deal and requested six ounces of marijuana, and a quarter-ounce of cocaine. However, prior to this conversation, Mr. Garcia had told a fellow employee and friend, defendant Lance Ornellas-Castro, about purchasing drugs from Andrew.
“What did the defendant say about the purchase of drugs?” asked Ms. Aiello. Mr. Garcia responded, “He wanted to take it from him [Andrew] and I agreed.”
Thus, Mr. Garcia called Andrew to change the order to a larger amount of drugs, so he could split it with the defendant. The total cost of this transaction would have been $800.
When asked how they were going to steal the product, Mr. Garcia testified that he would tell Andrew to get in the car and give up the drugs. If Andrew resisted, Mr. Ornellas-Castro would “flash” his revolver at him, which meant simply showing that he had a gun. Therefore, Andrew would have no choice but to comply.
Unfortunately, Andrew was never given a choice.
On December 11, 2015, after the end of their work shift, Mr. Garcia and Mr. Ornellas-Castro drove to Sacramento to meet up with Andrew.
Mr. Garcia told the court that they entered a Raley’s Supermarket parking lot and parked next to Andrew’s vehicle. When Andrew walked over to the driver’s side window to talk to him, Mr. Garcia told him to get in the front passenger seat.
Once Andrew had got into Mr. Garcia’s van, Mr. Garcia testified that he introduced Andrew to the defendant, who was sitting in the back seat. Then, Mr. Garcia told the court that Andrew gave him a box containing two bags of marijuana and that he was still waiting on a phone call for the cocaine.
As Mr. Garcia opened the box and examined the contents, he stated that Andrew continued to talk to the defendant. However, Mr. Garcia testified that he did not hear the conversation occurring between the two, but only the sound of a gunshot.
“A bullet hole in his[Andrew’s] forehead,” stated Mr. Garcia when asked what he saw.
After the gunfire, Mr. Garcia testified that the defendant told him to drive to a slough to hide the body. As Mr. Garcia drove, he asked Mr. Ornellas-Castro what happened, and he stated, “He was flexing,” or provoking him, and saw Andrew reaching into his pocket. Thus, the defendant reacted to firing his weapon.
On the way to the slough, Mr. Garcia testified that he searched Andrew and found his cellphone in the front pockets of his pants. He stopped and threw both his cellphone and Andrew’s phone into the river, and then drove south on I-5 going toward River Road.
Mr. Garcia testified that they eventually arrived at a secluded area near a slough. As they parked, he stated that he got out of the van and went to the back of the vehicle to keep watch for any oncoming cars, while the defendant took Andrew’s body out of the van.
Then, Mr. Garcia heard another gunshot and as he went to see what happened, but he discovered that the defendant was only stripping the clothes off of Andrew’s body.
As Andrew laid lifelessly on the ground, Mr. Garcia stated he and the defendant grabbed his body by the arms and ankles and threw him into the slough.
When the prosecution asked if Mr. Garcia found anything else on Andrew’s person, he stated,
“No, just his cellphone.”