Judge Rejects Testimony, Calls Victim ‘Powder Keg of Emotion’ – Prosecution Dismisses Charges in Preliminary Hearing


By Ganga Nair

SACRAMENTO, CA – Sonny Moran’s preliminary hearing took place in a tense courtroom here in Sacramento County Superior Court Tuesday, as he faced charges of force to cause grievous bodily injury.

However, by the end of the hearing, Moran was a free man, and his accuser was called a “powder keg of emotion” by the judge.

In her testimony, the alleged victim, Moran’s stepdaughter, claimed their relations were “not hostile” and that violence was not normally used in their family. 

But, as the victim’s mother, sister, and others testified, the victim was quickly pinned as a habitual, violent liar.

Moran was represented by Assistant Public Defender Damien Jovel, and Judge Trena H. Burger-Plavan presided over the hearing. The Deputy District Attorney was Celeena Lauren Wall.

With her voice shaking, the victim recalled the events of March 6, when she left a celebration of life event to confront her mother about a visitor after a Snapchat post indicated the visitor’s dog was at her mother’s house. 

The victim recalled that the visitor made threats previously to “shoot her child,” and her mother was supposed to take care of the victim’s child around the time when this visitor was home, which made her feel concerned for the safety of her child. 

Upon confrontation, the victim remembers the argument between her and her mother quickly intensifying, until the two started yelling at each other. The victim stated that Moran later approached her mother, and told her to “handle this,” although this was not confirmed by Moran’s arresting officer. 

The first strike was allegedly by her mother, to which the victim simply retaliated. Eventually, the victim’s partner and Moran would intervene, pulling the victim and her mother away from each other. It was during this moment that the victim claimed Moran “came over my mom and started hitting me.”

The victim’s partner then started hitting Moran, who was later pushed into a tree, although this was proven false later by PD Jovel. 

Moran then allegedly approached the victim, asking her if she “was ready to die” as he continued punching her in the head, she said, claiming he hit her to the ground, and proceeded to choke her using his hands, as Moran’s knee held her to the ground. 

The victim recalled, “I thought I was gonna die…I was trying to use my body but I couldn’t.”

The victim then claimed that her vision went black. She stated that she could only hear screams from who she believed to be her mother, partner, and sister, stating, “Let her go.” She recalled eventually being let go, and after getting up off the floor she was hit again by Moran. 

The victim then ran into the street and called the police. She then told the police that Moran and his son had warrants, as well as the presence of a gun in the house.

PD Jovel then cross-examined the victim, prompting a drastic change in her demeanor. As he noted discrepancies within her statement, the victim spoke quickly, interrupting Jovel and the court reporter numerous times. 

Jovel began questioning her about head injuries her mother faced after having a stroke days before the incident. The victim quickly denied that her mother had had a stroke, and that her head injuries were caused by other medical complications. 

Jovel continued, asking whether the victim saw the alleged visitor in her mother’s home. Despite saying she did not recall the first time, when asked again, she said that she did not see the visitor. 

The defense then began to question the victim’s credibility, stating, “You’re under oath here, be honest.” With the questioning becoming increasingly tense, the victim began asking questions, as she responded to Jovel’s questions, “Can I ask what the relevance is?” 

The questions then moved toward the victim’s “signature move” in a fight, where she pulls the other person’s head toward her knee, hitting the other person’s face. The victim quickly denied ever mentioning or having a “special move.” 

Jovel questioned her credibility, noting examples, including when the victim supposedly lied to her mother about having COVID-19. The PD said, “If this goes to trial, I want the jury to know that she’s a liar.”

Officer Kirk Sisson was then called to the stand. The officer’s story reported the same details the victim shared, along with the victim’s reported injuries including a bloody nose, bruises to the neck “typically consistent with being choked” and abrasions to the victim’s side, he said.

The injuries the victim suffered were consistent with her recollection of the events, although Jovel later pointed out that Officer Sisson only reported the injuries as being “minor.”

Sisson also recalled a witness being at the scene, the neighbor of the victim’s mother. The neighbor looked out her window after hearing someone yell, “Get off me.” The witness reported seeing a man, identified as Moran, on top of a woman, identified as the victim, as he punched her. However, the neighbor never saw if the victim was being choked. 

The defense, in an effort to establish that the victim was untrustworthy, quickly called upon the victim’s mother, “D”, and younger sister to testify. The victim’s sister stated that the defendant, her stepfather, was her “best friend” who lives with them and has a great relationship with her mother. 

She stated that, despite the victim’s claims she was choked, he was merely restraining her, in an attempt to protect her mother. Before this happened, she was yelling for her sister to stop hitting her mother, not for Moran to let go of the victim. 

Both the victim’s mother and sister confirmed, in contrast to the victim’s statement, that the victim did know her mother had previous head injuries. They also confirmed that she had a “signature move” she used in fights, including her attempts during this particular instance. 

The hearing concluded as Judge Burger-Plavan deemed the victim to be “wholly unbelievable,” citing the minimal credibility of her testimony. 

The judge described the victim as a “powder keg of emotion” that “ignited” upon seeing her mother, adding,  “Her words and actions showed that it was her who was the aggressor” and that her stepfather was merely acting to save his wife.

Upon impeaching the victim’s testimony, the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the case. All charges were dropped. 


About The Author

Ganga Nair is a rising sophomore at UC Davis, majoring in International Relations and Psychology. She is from Sacramento, CA and hopes to pursue a career in international law.

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