Brain Development of Murder Defendant Focus of Day Three of Drive-by Shooting Trial


By Jose Medina, Linhchi Nguyen, and Kathryn Wood

ALAMEDA – Additional witnesses appeared in Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday for the third day of defendant Jesus Danilo Lima’s jury trial with multiple charges, including murder in a drive-by shooting.

Deputy District Attorney Maggie Calonge finished her cross-examination of the victim’s cousin and Deputy Public Defender Laurel Arroyo presented three of the defendant’s teachers to the stand. These teachers testified to Lima’s troubled environment at school and his struggles with academics.

Dr. Shelley Peery also testified in court on her analysis of Lima’s cognitive functions, concluding that Lima could potentially have an intellectual disability.

The morning before the trial day began had a rocky start as DDA Calonge and DPD Arroyo argued, out of jury earshot, over evidence and witness. As a result, Judge Thomas Reardon delayed the trial in order to hear their arguments and order a last-minute hearing on the admissibility of evidence.

The prosecutor wanted to present a piece of evidence involving a series of photos captured by a security camera from a liquor store, where the incident occurred. Arroyo objected to this request, saying that it was originally defense evidence and that Calonge only notified them about this matter at 8:23 a.m.

Despite Judge Reardon stating that he wanted to give the defense the chance to present the evidence before the DDA, Calonge angrily replied, “Why am I essentially being asked for an additional hurdle to an admission of evidence just because it was from the defense?”

On top of this, the court expressed issues with one of the defense witnesses, a neuropsychologist, that was being called to testify on Lima’s brain development. “I have concerns about generic adolescent brain testimony infringing on or violating the Penal Code sections prohibiting diminished capacity evidence,” said Judge Reardon.

Ms. Arroyo charged that the court is excluding the defense from relevant evidence, and she asserted that expert Dr. Shelly Peery’s testimony would go to her argument “that why Jesus was less likely to see the danger of walking into that situation…whether he was actually impulsive, whether he was actually having poor judgement, whether he was actually engaging in risky behavior…

“It’s not about capacity,” Arroyo insisted. “It’s about whether he actually was able to form an intent to premeditate and deliberate on that point.”

But Judge Reardon told her to be cautious with the testimony and that he will only allow “brief limited testimony concerning the defendant’s age, particularly if they may relate to hyper-vigilance after childhood trauma.”

And with that, the trial resumed, starting with the victim’s cousin.

The witness testified that he did not know the group of people in the truck that were involved in the drive-by shooting. He mentioned that the group in the truck “passed by and stared at us and after that, we stared at them… and that’s when they shot at us.”

He further stated that when he tried to hold on to his cousin, who was shot, a man from the group came over and hit the witness on the head with two bottles of beer. At that moment, the witness saw Lima run away from the store, and he chased after him.

The victim’s cousin recalled that his cousin had problems with the defendant the day the shooting occurred. After Lima fired the shot, he admitted that they jumped on the defendant to restrain him from shooting again.

Three teachers from Castlemont High School in Oakland were called in to testify on behalf of the defendant’s academic upbringing and high-stress school environment.

The first teacher taught Lima English for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. The teacher stated that she taught ESL students that came from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Although the defendant received A’s and B’s in her class, she admitted that Lima struggled with spelling, sentence structure, and handwriting. She noted that Castlemont High School graded on completion and participation to avoid making the students feel discouraged about their academic performance.

When the teacher was asked to provide a description of the surrounding area, she commented that the neighborhood was very dangerous and there were many abandoned cars, homeless people, and a burned down business. She even noted that “on my first day, I saw someone get robbed on the street.”

She confirmed that the campus was frequently on lockdown when there was someone in the area with a gun or weapon. The campus was open and had 10 entrances and exits, which made it prone to vulnerable situations. She stated that the campus was unsafe and “one teacher even got shot” while she was employed at Castlemont High School.

When the English teacher was questioned about whether she had ever been assaulted by a student, she responded that once a “student threw a chair at me.” Additionally, she witnessed a student bringing a knife to school. Often, students would start fights and interact with each other in a negative way.

After another teacher said Lima had been arrested, and she went to visit him in jail. During the visit, she admitted that Lima did not mention anything from the incident.

During the second teacher’s testimony, she claimed that it was hard to focus on teaching academics since there were always “students leaving the classroom, crying about their family situations, or texting and calling during class.” She mentioned that Jesus struggled with reading and writing Spanish and English and had trouble sounding out words.

The teacher was asked whether she felt safe when walking outside of the school campus, to which she replied “no.” When she looks back on teaching at Castlemont High School and the environment she was in, she expressed that it was “difficult for my mental health and sense of safety.”

After she was moved to a classroom in the front of the building, there were “bars on the windows and constant screaming, shouting, and fighting outside.”

Finally, the third teacher also attested that the defendant struggled with general concepts in English and had trouble writing complete sentences. She confirmed that Lima’s English was at a second to third grade level, while his math skills reached a 4th grade level.

During the afternoon session, the court called in the defense expert witness, clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Peery, to testify about Lima’s evaluation. Dr. Peery specializes in Spanish-bilingual psychological evaluations, and she met with Lima to conduct an evaluation in 2018.

Dr. Peery explained that the evaluation was meant “to see what his different levels of functioning were and assess his neurological strengths and weaknesses.” Dr. Peery assured the court that they provided a thorough assessment that covered everything from medical conditions to social history.

She added that “what we’re looking at is their adaptive functioning—can they prepare food, can they go shopping.”

According to Dr. Peery, an intellectual disability occurs “when an individual has cognitive challenges where some aspects of their cognition are not at where they should be relative to their chronological age, their mental age is less than their chronological age.”

Dr. Peery then revealed that Lima has a mild intellectual disability, which is defined as someone who “may need a social worker, or family member to help them with certain adaptive tasks like managing their bills and shopping,” or “may need a vocational coach to do a particular job.”

Dr. Peery also revealed that Lima’s academic knowledge is at a first grade level, while his reading comprehension is at the third grade level.

In what looked like a reference to the trauma that Lima experienced at age eight when he was forced by his mother’s boyfriend to work instead of attend school, Dr. Peery revealed that Lima “functions like an eight- to 11-year-old in the skills he was assessed for.”

She added that “his social skills were limited as well… how they choose to resolve disagreements, how to maintain relationships, coping with internal turmoil were that of an eight-year-old.”

In other words, Lima could find it difficult in finding different solutions and alternatives to stressful situations, like the drive-by shooting incident that occurred in 2017.

The case will resume its proceedings in the Alameda County Superior Court in Department 8 at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.

Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.

Kathryn Wood is a third year at UC Davis, majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Professional Writing and Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning. She is from Petaluma, California.

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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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