By Natalia Ruvalcaba
RIVERSIDE, CA – During a preliminary hearing in Riverside County Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney Melissa Kahal used body camera footage evidence to elicit a domestic violence abuse victim’s jarring testimony.
Private defense attorney John Dolan is representing Juan Misael Casarez, who is charged with Penal Code section 273.5(a), detailing that it is illegal to injure a spouse, cohabitant or fellow parent in an act of domestic violence.
Deputy District Attorney Melissa Kahal called the alleged victim, Juan Casarez’s wife, to the stand, to testify on the abuse that she endured by her husband on the night of Feb. 20 this year.
Casarez’s wife claimed that the night started out at a casino, where her husband and she spent the latter part of the evening. She reported that her son, at the time, was in the care of her foster mom, who often cared for the child when the parents were busy. That night, after the casino, Casarez and his wife drove back to pick up the child after dropping a friend of the husband off at his own home.
The victim admitted that the couple had had some drinks while at the casino, and when they reached home an argument ensued. She confessed to Casarez that she had cheated on him and tried to apologize. Though this escalated as the victim recalled that Casarez insisted on seeing her phone and got mad when she told him her phone had died.
DDA Kahal questioned the victim about the events that led up to the 911 call that was made by the victim’s neighbor. She, the victim, said that she incited physical force, pushing him to the bed when he tried to reach for her phone. She then claimed that her husband, Casarez, threw her phone and demanded the car keys and money from her.
When questioned by DDA Kahal about her response to Casarez’s demands, the victim stated that she did not give the defendant what he asked for because she “knew what he was going to do.” She claimed she didn’t want him driving because they had drinks and thought it wasn’t safe for him to drive.
According to the victim’s testimony, the couple continued to fight. Attorney Kahal questioned the whereabouts of the child while the fight occurred, but the victim’s response did not match that of what was recorded in the 911 call and the body cam footage by the arriving officer.
The prosecution asserted that the victim told law enforcement that the child was in the room, but in court, she said he was in another room, and then continued to say that the child was with her at some point.
Casarez’s Private Attorney, John Dolan, objected, charging Attorney Kahal was presenting the victim with leading questions. Judge Russell Moore told Attorney Kahal to be wary of her questions being leading but allowed her to continue with her questioning.
DDA Kahal questioned the victim on Casarez’s action, asking if he threw anything at her. The victim stated that she did not recall him doing such. Instead, she said that during the argument she picked up her child and went running outside, and sometime during this, grabbed a broomstick to tell her husband to go away.
Casarez’s wife admitted to feeling like she was the “first one to do anything,” though the prosecutor continued asking the victim if her husband did anything. The victim was hesitant in her responses, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m nervous,” which was proceeded by the sound of her sniffles.
The prosecutor proceeded, asserting that something physical had happened before the victim picked up her child, and questioned the exact altercation. Casarez’s wife said that she socked him once in the shoulder and he tried to make her stop. DDA Kahal asked how Casarez did so, and the victim responded with “by throwing me to the floor.”
When asked if her husband put his hands on her, the victim hesitantly admitted that he did. She said she did not recall how many hands, but that he did place at least one hand on her neck. However, the victim then proceeded to say that she felt that she couldn’t breathe, but that was only because she has asthma.
DDA Kahal tried to elicit details from the victim about the interaction the victim had with the deputy who arrived to the 911 call. But the victim, again, said that she did not recall much.
When prosecutor Kahal asked, “Do you recall where your child was?” the victim stated, “No, I don’t.” The victim also claimed that she doesn’t remember much because she was drinking that night, but Kahal questioned why her memory of the events leading up to the physical altercation were fine and the rest seemed to be of issue.
The victim, in an unsteady voice, told DDA Kahal, “You’re making me more nervous.” This statement, coupled with the sound of the victim’s muffled sniffling, was met with Judge Russell Moore calling a 15-minute recess.
After a bit more than 15 minutes, the hearing advanced with the encounter that followed the victim picking up a broomstick to get her husband out of the apartment.
DDA Kahal asked, “After you were strangled, you grabbed a broomstick to get him out of the house,” to which the victim agreed. She declared that she did not have the child at that point and that Casarez then allegedly took the broomstick and hit her with it.
However, when asked about where she was injured, the victim claimed that she could not recall.
The victim maintained that after her husband hit her with the broomstick she went upstairs to lock herself and her child in the room. She then told Casarez to leave, and despite his not doing so, she ran out with her child, to her neighbors, and then to her car when her neighbor didn’t answer the door.
She said that at some point she ran back to her neighbor’s apartment, to which the child of the resident answered, while the mother called 911. The victim said that she was put on the phone as the responders wanted to hear from her and not the neighbor.
When asked about any injuries she sustained, the victim said she only had a cut. Though the prosecutor questioned the specifics, wondering if the cut was bleeding, and to which the victim said it was since “all cuts bleed,” seemingly undermining the injuries she sustained.
As the prosecutor continued to receive blurry accounts from the victim, DDA Kahal presented to the court video and image evidence. Kahal brought forth, first, two images. The first image was of the broomstick, that appeared to be broken in half, and the other was of the victim’s face, displaying the injuries she sustained to her face.
After being presented with the photo evidence, the prosecutor asserted the victim had to be hit enough times and with enough force for the broom to be broken. The victim agreed with DDA Kahal and admitted that she had to throw it away since it was no longer viable for its intended purposes.
DDA Kahal then presented three pieces of video evidence as obtained by police body camera footage. Kahal began with the beginning of the encounter when the deputy arrived on the scene, which illustrated the victim’s need for medical attention as the deputy called in for a response to injuries.
The victim said that the video did refresh her memory when questioned by DDA Kahal, but then proceeded to say that the audio was too low for her to hear. She denied the prosecutor’s suggestion of playing back the audio and claimed she didn’t recall what was presented in the video evidence.
Time did not permit for the prosecutor’s presentation of the other two video evidence pieces, so Judge Moore called the victim and defendant back for the conclusion of the preliminary hearing on Dec. 20.