By Ashleen Herrarte and Veronica Miller
VENTURA, CA – The trial of Michael Vera resumed on Monday with the forensic scientist and deputy sheriff testifying before closing arguments were made to the jury here in Ventura County Superior Court.
Vera is on trial for felony conspiracy—with his ex-wife—and a felony of bringing narcotics into a detention center. He is currently defending himself.
Back in May 2019, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office reported the arrival of suspicious mail. A mailroom clerk had detected an altered card and envelope addressed to Vera.
Deputies suspected the mail had been soaked with a controlled substance. It was then sent to the Ventura County Crime Lab where they confirmed the presence of methamphetamine.
On June 19, 2019, a mailroom clerk noticed more mail with similar alterations which was then tested and confirmed to have methamphetamine. An investigation confirmed that a Rhonda Vera had been the sender and had soaked the cards. She was arrested when she tried to visit the accused Vera.
The prosecution’s first witness, Emily Dalton, was called by Deputy District Attorney Nadia Aboujawdah. Dalton has worked for forensics in Ventura for about 12 years.
Dalton explained that she had put the evidence in her evidence locker for which she has the key and carries it around her neck. She also said there were “no discrepancies” with the evidence when she performed the tests.
Michael Vera asked Dalton when it was that she took the tests of the samples. Dalton said she did one test in May and the rest in July.
Tyler Brown, a Ventura County deputy sheriff for 15 years, said he was working at the Todd Road Jail in the classification units, and said cards had previously been used to smuggle drugs into jail.
Brown was then presented with different photos of the evidence by DDA Aboujawdah. He said some cards had been different since they had little writing and cards tended to have more written in them as well as having an aroma like perfume.
DDA Aboujawdah continued to question Brown about the cards but in particular the writing in the cards. In total there were five cards from Rhonda that had been sent to Vera while he was in jail.
Aboujawdah asked whether the handwriting was all the same on the cards and Brown confirmed. He said the appearance was similar in all five cards.
Accused Vera asked Brown about the previous witness, Dalton, and if they had worked together, to which Brown said no. Then Vera asked Brown if he had been coerced. Brown said no. Brown was then excused.
Vera was asked by Judge Hon Derek Malan whether he would have his evidence rely on the state or present his own, and he said he would rely on the state.
The Court then moved on to the final statements from DDA Aboujawdah and Vera.
DDA Aboujawdah said the evidence she brought throughout the trial showed that Vera and his ex-wife were bringing drugs into prison and were going to continue to do it.
She added Vera did it by noting his ex-wife had written the names of different women on the letters. She further argued that if everything was straightforward there would have been no need for there to be other names on the letters.
She further urged the jury to look at the way that the letters and numbers are written on the envelopes and the notes to make that comparison between his ex-wife’s letter and the other letters that were sent to him.
Vera objected throughout DDA Aboujawdah’s closing argument to oppose statements she was making.
Judge Derek Malan stated that the things said in the closing arguments would not be going into evidence, therefore she could continue.
DDA Aboujawdah noted a specific phone call where Vera and his ex-wife are having a coded conversation about chicken. Vera had asked things such as, “Did you barbecue any chicken?” and “How much chicken do you have left?”
Aboujawdah brought attention to this phone call because it shows, the DDA said, how there was this coded language that the two used to talk about the methamphetamine that they had and would be using for the letters.
Vera, in his closing statement, wanted to tell the jury that the only reason they are in court is because there is a system in which mail is allowed into the prison.
He then stated that there was vagueness in the witnesses’ answers and they often did not answer the question being brought to them.
He also noted the conversations the jury was being shown were edited and that the case before them was one built out of presumptions. He added presumptions that something that might have happened is not evidence.
Vera ended his statement by saying, “I can’t sit here and tell you I’m an innocent man, but I am not a guilty man to this.”