By Julie Maruskin and Simran Bhatt
A witness identified her mother in the footage taken from the home that was burglarized last July 29.
The defendant, Holly Ford, plead not guilty to the felony charge of one count of burglary in the first degree.
The prosecuting attorney, Mr. Shaw, began his opening argument by claiming that the alleged victim was out of town and the alleged victim’s family took turns watching his house. The alleged victim’s granddaughter met up with her mother and told her that she was taking her grandparents to the airport. One of the days that she was watching her grandfather’s residence, she noticed broken glass and an open glass door. The police arrived and checked around the house. She brought surveillance footage of the house to the police.
The footage showed that at 1:30 am a woman approached the driveway. The granddaughter of the residence recognized the woman as her mother. The prosecution explained that the mother was moving from a shelter at the time and that the mother claimed that she was “desperate.” The mother, who is the defendant, Ms. Ford, complied with the police and directed them to the property taken from the residence. She felt bad for what she did and ended up writing and sending an apology letter.
When the owner of the residence returned to town, he identified the property as his own and contained baseball cards, watches, and jewelry.
Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira began her opening argument claiming that the prosecution only presented a glimpse of the defendant’s story. She claimed that “life doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” She stated that the jury was selected based on common sense and life experience and that she hoped this would lead to the best decision making in understanding that the situation was not a black or white situation.
Ms. Sequeira claimed that the relationship between the defendant and the father of her child was adversarial. The defense claimed that the defendant was not allowed to see her kids. The owner of the residence apparently was well known in the city and the family of the defendant’s ex-husband were “known for their money.” She claimed that she was losing her children’s support on her side of the divorce because the father’s family, the owners of the residence, supported the children with money by paying for their rent.
The defending attorney claimed that Ms. Ford was desperate because she was losing her place to stay and that Ms. Ford alluded to her place being lost partially because of her ex-husband’s family. The defense claimed that when her client broke in she did not have intent to commit theft and this could not be proven by the prosecution. She was looking for her daughters and was desperate.
Ms. Sequeira concluded her defending arguments by claiming that her client lacked the ability to know where she was going. She claimed that the prosecution will not be able to prove her intent when entering the residence, due to desperation and lack of intent, and that Ms. Ford has been cooperative with the police throughout the entire process. She then closed her arguments by reading the apology letter that Ms. Ford wrote claiming that she was sorry she even took anything and that she regretted it.
Following the opening statements the first witness was called to the stand. The first witness was the granddaughter of the residence owner and the daughter of the defendant.
Mr. Shaw for the People had the granddaughter identify her mother in court. She was asked where she was house-sitting, who was helping her, and what the duties were to house-sit.
The witness responded that she house-sat at her grandparents’ residence with her sister and her dad’s help and that her duties were to check the pool, lock up the house and make sure the lights were off. She claimed that when she visited the residence it looked unusual, the front entry glass was broken and the back sliding door was also open. She called the police who told her to go to the front of the house. Then she called her father who arrived after the police. When asked to recount what happened to the police she explained that the house had surveillance set up.
She testified to the court that there were three surveillance cameras. One faced out from the front door, one faced out from the back door, and one faced the garage door. The footage could be seen from a tablet device and it was a motion detection system.
The police and the witness discovered her mother on the clip passing by the garage. Mr. Shaw presented People’s Exhibits 2, 3, 4 and 5, where it showed the different angles of footage taken. The witness was able to recognize the footage as coming from her grandparents’ residence and accurately reflecting the surveillance of the night that the incident occurred. In People’s Exhibit 5 the witness recognized her mother, by her mannerisms and clothes, walking toward the garage in the middle of the night.
The prosecution asked if her parents were still together, and she had responded that they were not and had been separated for over 10 years. She explained that the parents did not have too much contact with each other because the relationship was hostile. Her own relationship with her mother, she claimed, was difficult. The last time she claimed to have seen her mother before the incident was about a week before, but she did not recall telling her mother about the house-sitting or about driving her grandparents to the airport.
The defense cross-examined the witness and asked the witness with whom she lived. She responded that she was living with her dad. Ms. Sequeira asked if the grandparents helped support the dad’s rent, and she responded that she had no knowledge of that. When asked about who the owner of her house was, she responded that she did not know.
When asked about her relationship with her mom she responded that she spoke to her inconsistently but tried to maintain the relationship, even though it was a struggle. She explained that there is a lot of drama in the family because her mother had not had a stable job or home for a long time, but that the issues were brought upon by herself. The defending attorney asked from where she got that opinion and she responded that the opinion was her own. The defense asked if her if she ever had knowledge of or witnessed her mother going anywhere to shower, to which the witness responded that she would go to the homeless shelter and the gym to shower.
The second witness called to the stand was the alleged victim. He was retired and a former attorney in Yolo County. He confirmed his residence. Mr. Shaw asked the alleged victim if he represented his son in court against Ms. Ford, and he responded that he had.
The witness was asked whether his granddaughters were watching his residence when he left out of town, and he agreed that they were. When asked what had happened that day he responded that he got a call at about 10 in the morning from his son about the police activity going on at his home in Woodland. He testified to contacting the police to identify the property taken from the house that they had recovered, as soon as he returned from the trip. Before this time, on the day of the incident, his son texted him pictures of the property stolen, which the alleged victim was able to recognize as his own before identifying it with the police.
The prosecution presented the many items of property that were taken from his residence as People’s Exhibit 25. Then Mr. Shaw went forward with showing the alleged victim images taken from the residence by the police. These were People’s Exhibits 6 through 15. He walked the court through the items had been taken from the cabinet in the living area, the dresser in the master bedroom and from where his wife had kept her jewelry hanging. He explained that the items in the living room were put away into a cabinet just in case any of his granddaughters’ friends were over at the residence. In People’s Exhibit 16 the image reflected jewelry on the floor in front of the dresser, which the alleged victim indicated was not the way it was left.
The prosecution asked the alleged victim if there was any more property still missing, to which he responded that he did not think there was any. He was asked if he gave Ms. Ford permission to be inside his house, to which he responded “absolutely not.” He was then asked if he gave her permission to take anything and he responded “no.” He was asked if he wanted her in the house and he said that he did not.
In the cross-examination of the second witness, the alleged victim was asked if he gave his granddaughters permission to have friends over to his residence. He responded that he did not. Ms. Sequeira asked the alleged victim why he moved his watches into the cabinet in the living room and he responded that it was just a precautionary motion.
Ms. Sequeira asked the witness if he had feelings about his granddaughters talking to their mother, to which he responded that he did not have any. She pressed, asking if he was trying to keep the kids away from her, and he responded that he was not.
The third witness was an expert witness. The witness was Officer Ryan Royeal with the Woodland Police Department. During the time that the incident occurred he was in training and has been a police officer for eight months total. He was qualified in his training and was advised by a Corporal Mckenzie during his training period.
Mr. Shaw asked Officer Royeal if he responded to the residence for a burglary and he said that he had. He was asked what the process was after he arrived at the residence. He responded that he spoke with the witness, cleared the house, identified the front window smash and the back sliding door open. He was presented with the surveillance from the witness and Ms. Holly Ford became a potential suspect.
Officer Royeal testified to the property being brought to him in addition to him identifying evidence in a pickup truck. Due to speculation, the truck could not be testified to being Ms. Ford’s.
The defending attorney cross-examined Officer Royeal. Ms. Sequeira asked him if when he talked to the witness whether he was given the location of Ms. Ford. He was, in fact, given the location of the defendant, however he never made contact with her. He testified to arriving at the truck around 12:09 pm, which matched the police report.
In his report, the officer stated that the home appeared neat and orderly and the defense asked him if this was true. He agreed. She asked him who took the fingerprints and he explained that two community service officers came out and took the fingerprints and photographed the scene. Fingerprints, however were not located.
The defense asked him about the footage and whether or not the footage that was shown had a date on it. He responded that it had. Ms. Sequeira asked him how he knew that the date was the correct date and he responded that he checked the time on the surveillance with the time on his watch. She asked him if he knew of the program used for the footage and whether or not the footage date and time was changed. He responded that he did not know how the system operated, he did not touch the settings, and that he checked the time and date. The defending attorney asked him whether or not he saw Ms. Ford leaving the house in any footage and he responded that he had not. A juror question asked whether or not he looked at the footage clips in different angles and he responded that he did and hadn’t seen Ms. Ford in any other clips.
The third witness brought to the stand was the other granddaughter of the residence, who also watched the house. She testified to staying the night during the time that the incident occurred, however, she came home late – and when got up and noticed damage to the back gate, she was running late and had to leave.
The defense asked her whether or not it was dark when she arrived. She responded that it was and that the light went off and probably video recorded her arriving.
The fourth witness called to the stand was Officer Brandon Swonger. He had been with the Woodland Police Department for seven years and was dispatched to the residence to assist Officer Royeal. He had probable cause to arrest the defendant, who he identified in court as Ms. Ford. He arrested her when she was out front of her residence loading a sedan with items. He testified to reading Ms. Ford her Miranda rights and explaining to her that she was a suspect in burglary.
When the officer spoke with Ms. Ford, she told him that she knew no one would be there at the residence and that her daughter had said that she took the grandparents to the airport. She explained that she broke into the residence by crawling through the front window and grabbed the jewelry and baseball cards. She then got on her bicycle and went to her vehicle, also located in Woodland. The vehicle was a pickup truck that she loaded the items into. She explained to the officer that the reason that she went into the house was because she needed money and was getting kicked out of her place. She needed the money for a motel.
Officer Swonger testified to going to the pickup truck with Ms. Ford and locating the property. The prosecution presented People’s Exhibits 21, 24, and 26 which were images of the property. The officer confirmed this property as being the property he saw.
Officer Swonger stated that after the Miranda rights were read to Ms. Ford, she stated that she was embarrassed and sad. The officer advised that she write an apology letter.
Furthermore, during Officer Swonger’s first encounter with Ms. Ford he assumed that the defendant presented signs of a controlled substance, most likely a stimulant. This was due to her dryness of mouth, trouble following lines of question and eye flickering. However, as their conversation progressed he concluded that she was actually not on a controlled substance but was nervous and distraught by the interrogation. The officer continued to state that Ms. Ford first mentioned that she did not steal anything from the residence. However, as the interrogation progressed, Ms. Ford admitted to have stolen a necklace, baseball cards and rings. The rings were in the trunk of the pick up truck and the officer was unable to access the truck as Ms. Ford’s daughter had the car keys. This truck was located on North Street which was approximately half a mile from the residence.
The prosecutor focused on how the officer summarized the encounter with Ms. Ford and only included information that he saw fit. Ms. Ford mentioned to the officer that she was desperate and did not want to be on the streets. The officer extrapolated that detail and summarized that she was desperate for money.
The judge concluded that tomorrow, on November 13, Ms. Ford’s case would undergo jury deliberation.