Hostile Witness Repeatedly Lies Under Full Immunity

by Ruby Zapien

Department 8 reconvened the murder trial of the People v. Lance Ornellas-Castro, with Judge David W. Reed presiding. Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson was present representing the defendant, Lance Ornellas-Castro, and Chief Assistant Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello and Deputy District Attorney Matthew De Moura were present, representing the People. The defendant is accused of murder in the shooting death of Andrew Phaouthoum in December of 2015. The co-defendant in the case, Jorge Garcia, accepted a plea agreement, and provided testimony earlier in the trial.

Before allowing the jury to return from lunch, the court discussed the immunity of witness “RB,” a close acquaintance of Jorge Garcia.  RB was to testify later in the afternoon, but both parties were hesitant that she would plead the Fifth, declining to provide self-incriminating testimony.

Judge Reed granted immunity for the witness, and advised both parties that they were subject to limited inquiry and that he would shut down anything that went beyond the scope of this case.

RB took the stand with her attorney alongside her. RB is 19 years old and currently works at a restaurant. Ms. Aiello asked about RB’s relationship with Jorge Garcia. RB stated that she and Mr. Garcia had been close friends for about two years. When they would hang out, they would mostly cruise or walk around.

When Ms. Aiello asked RB if they smoked marijuana when they would hang out, RB answered, “Yes.” Ms. Aiello followed with, “Often?”

RB answered, “No.”

“No?” questioned Ms. Aiello.

RB then changed her answer to yes.

Ms. Aiello then questioned RB on the last time she had gone to the home of her uncle, “WB.” RB stated that she had gone to his house in late November of 2015 with Jorge Garcia and a cousin.

“How did marijuana come up?” asked Ms. Aiello.

“I asked [Uncle WB] if he knew anyone who had marijuana and he said, ‘Yeah.’” RB described her uncle calling “Drew” [Andrew Phaouthoum] for the marijuana and Andrew later showing up at the house. RB stated that she bought the marijuana from him, and that she had seen Mr. Phaouthoum and Mr. Garcia exchange numbers. RB said she never saw Andrew after that day.

A week after this encounter, RB went with Mr. Garcia to a grocery store to meet and purchase more marijuana from Mr. Phaouthoum. However, RB stayed in the car and never actually saw the exchange.

“A week or so after that, did you learn that Andrew had gone missing?” questioned Ms. Aiello

“No.”

“You didn’t learn that he’d gone missing?” asked Ms. Aiello

RB stuck to her initial answer, “No.”

Ms. Aiello tried a different approach to the question, “Did Uncle WB reach out to you?

RB said Uncle WB did try to reach out to her. He wanted to know if RB knew where Mr. Garcia was.

“Did Jorge try to get in touch with you?” questioned Ms. Aiello

RB replied, “Yes.”

Ms. Aiello asked RB if she had any contact with Uncle WB after speaking with Jorge. RB initially answered no. After being asked again, she changed her answer to yes.

Finally, Ms. Aiello asked RB if she remembered receiving a text from Mr. Garcia stating, “FR [For Real] I’m trying to come up on a lick…” RB claimed she did not remember receiving that text message.

Before the defense began questioning RB, Mr. Hutchinson wanted to ensure that RB understood she was testifying under full immunity. He explicitly told her that the only way she could be charged for anything she said was if she lied or perjured herself. Additionally, he told her to say “I don’t remember” if she did not remember, and “I don’t know” if she did not know – but not to guess.

Mr. Hutchinson only asked RB yes or no questions.  RB affirmed to have introduced Uncle WB to Mr. Garcia and to having been present during the times Mr. Garcia purchased marijuana from Uncle WB.

“Did you speak to Mr. Ceron [the investigator for the Public Defender’s office]?” – asked Mr. Hutchinson.

RB answered, “No.”

Frustrated with her answer, Mr. Hutchinson asked. “Do you understand your immunity means nothing if you lie?”

“Yes,” responded RB.

With that answer, Mr. Hutchinson asked again, “Did you speak to Mr. Ceron?”

“No.” answered RB.

Mr. Hutchinson then asked if Uncle WB had ever mentioned “the Asians” or how they were good people and had good weed.

RB said, “No.”

Mr. Hutchinson approached RB with Defense’s Exhibit 339, a report of text messages. Mr. Hutchinson gave RB a few minutes to read those text messages to herself.

RB stated that she did recognize the texts between her and Uncle WB. RB then admitted to hearing Uncle WB speak of “the Asians.”

Mr. Hutchinson asked RB if she had ever attempted to obtain Mr. Garcia’s new number. RB stated that she did not.

“You never contacted FC [another friend of Garcia’s] and asked her for Jorge’s new number?”  asked Mr. Hutchinson.

RB was silent for a moment before answering, “Yes.”

RB then admitted to having a conversation with Uncle WB about Mr. Garcia’s vehicle and mother. RB gave a description of the car and said she did not know his mother.

“At this point are you scared?”  asked Mr. Hutchinson.

RB answered, “Yes.”

Mr. Hutchinson asked RB of whom she was scared, Mr. Garcia or someone else. RB stated that she did not know.

They then discussed a phone conversation with a man named “Chan.” He told RB that they found Mr. Phaouthoum’s body and RB admitted to giving him Mr. Garcia’s location.

Mr. Hutchinson asked RB if she recalled talking to Detective Mike Glaser from the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. RB admitted to giving him her phone and that she described to him that stealing and “hit a lick” meant to break into cars, not stealing someone’s weed.

Ms. Aiello, on re-direct, began questioning RB about the conversations she had with Det. Glaser.

“When you talked to him the first time, you told him everything you knew?” questioned Ms. Aiello.

“Yes,” answered RB.

Ms. Aiello followed with, “Did you withhold any information from him the first time?”

RB answered, “No.”

Ms. Aiello reworded her question, “Did you tell him everything Jorge had told you?”

“Yes,” responded RB.

At this point, the witness was treated as hostile, and RB stated that she withheld information the first time because she was scared.

Mr. Hutchinson, on re-cross, asked RB about text messages from her phone about selling marijuana. RB denied it twice.

“Do you need me to find [the text messages] for you?” asked Mr. Hutchinson, as he knew the witness was lying.

The People objected, and Judge Reed asked Mr. Hutchinson to move on to the next question.

“What did you ‘front’ people?” questioned Mr. Hutchinson.

“Nothing,” answered RB.

“What did you supply people?” asked Mr. Hutchinson.

“Nothing,” answered RB.

Mr. Hutchinson asked for the afternoon break as he looked through his computer for the text messages.  He found a few text messages, one stating, “Who needs weed?” Mr. Hutchinson informed RB’s attorney to advise her client wisely.

When everyone returned from break, Mr. Hutchinson gave RB one last chance to tell the truth.

“Have you sold marijuana?” asked Mr. Hutchinson.

RB answered, “Yes.”

Mr. Hutchinson wanted to know where RB was getting her weed supply from. RB repeatedly stated that she did not obtain it from Jorge. She said it was another person and she could not remember exactly who.

Sergeant (Detective) Mike Glaser was then called to the stand. Sgt. Glaser has worked for the Yolo County sheriff’s department for about 26 years now, and is now a detective. Sgt. Glaser claimed to have taken a statement from RB where she described “hit a lick” as breaking into cars. A few days later Sgt. Glaser took another statement from her, and her definition of “hit a lick” was consistent with the first.

Sgt. Glaser described going to the victim’s family’s house to inform them of the body identification. Once there, he spoke to a man named Chan. Mr. Hutchinson asked Sgt. Glaser what Chan told him.

“He said that he would talk to his Asian friends and let [law enforcement] do their job,” stated Sgt. Glaser.

With no questions from the People, the court adjourned. The trial is to resume on Monday, March 13, 2017, in Department 8.

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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