Judge Asks First Prosecution Witness in Domestic Violence Trial His Own Questions and Asks Jury if It Had Questions

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By Sahaily Zazueta

MURRIETA, CA- The jury trial for Ronnie Yarber, a man charged with felony domestic violence and felony assault, began Monday at Riverside County Superior Court’ Southwest Justice Center, and it featured a judge probing the witness and asking the jury to chime in, too.

When the prosecution finished their direct examination of their first witness and the defense had no questions for cross-examination, Judge Timothy Freer asked the witness questions of his own and questions from the jury.

Yarber was initially arrested in 2018 on a felony charge of inflicting corporal injury on the mother of his child. He is currently out of custody on $50,000 bail

Deputy District Attorney Veronica Mittino delivered the opening statement to the court, painting Yarber as a violent man who abused his romantic partners. DDA Mittino told the jury that Yarber is accused of choking the mother of his child when she was 38 weeks pregnant, and ripping off the acrylic fingernails and sew-in wig of another woman.

DDA Mittino asked the jury to hold Yarber accountable for his actions as they listen to the evidence the prosecution will present in the case.

In his opening statement, Yarber’s defense attorney Joshua Hanks told the jury the case was “not as simple” as the prosecution made it seem. Hanks stated he would show the jury that Yarber was not the violent, abusive man the prosecution claimed he was.

The prosecution began their case-in-chief after opening arguments by calling its first witness, Melissa Hernandez, to the stand.

Deputy District Attorney Carly Rustebakke asked Hernandez, a custodian of records with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Dispatch Office, about her job responsibilities.

As a custodian of records, Hernandez is responsible for providing the district attorney’s office with 911 calls that are requested for court purposes and investigations. Hernandez is knowledgeable in the codes used by dispatchers when answering calls.

DDA Rustebakke asked Hernandez to identify the information on the dispatch call log for a 911 call placed on June 14, 2018. Hernandez identified that this call was placed by one of the victims in this case, and the dispatcher who answered the call labeled it as a domestic violence call

The 911 call that was placed on June 14, 2018, was then played for the jury.

In this call, the victim tells the dispatcher that Yarber choked her to the point where she could not breathe as she tried to get their baby from his arms. The victim can be heard crying on the call as she tells the dispatcher that this happened five minutes before she placed the call.

The victim tells the dispatcher that she has never called the police on him before because, “I know that when you get into it with your kid’s father and the kid is there, that’s like child endangerment on the both of you guys.”

The victim tells the dispatcher that she does not require medical attention, and she placed the call because she wants advice. The dispatcher advises the caller that she should “report that he did this to you, and then go to court and get a restraining order and custody and all of that started.”

The call ends with the dispatcher telling the caller that a deputy will call her back using a private number.

DDA Rustebakke introduces the prosecution’s next piece of evidence to the court and the witness: a 911 call made on Nov. 14, 2018.

From the dispatch call logs, Hernandez identified that this 911 call reported an assault that had occurred the night before it was placed.

In this 911 call, the victim claims that Yarber assaulted her the night before by attempting to rip off her acrylic nails from her fingers and pull off her sew-in wig from her scalp “because he paid for them.” The victim also tells the dispatcher that Yarber damaged her car and took her phone.

The victim tells the dispatcher that she was not Yarber’s girlfriend but they were romantically involved. In the background of this 911 call, a male voice can be heard speaking to the victim, but his words are unintelligible.

The call ends with the dispatcher telling the caller that a deputy will call her back using a private number.

The prosecution had no further questions for the witness. Judge Freer asked defense counsel Hanks if he had any questions for cross-examination, to which Hanks replied he did not.

Judge Freer stated he had his own questions for the witness, asking Hernandez about the codes that the dispatchers input into the call logs when answering a 911 call. Judge Freer asked if dispatchers sometimes used their own codes for 911 logs rather than the codes they learn in their training.

Hernandez stated that the dispatchers are “supposed to be using the abbreviations that we learn so that everybody knows the same.” Judge Freer responded: “Right, does that happen on every case?” Hernandez replied: “Sometimes it doesn’t.”

Judge Freer stated he had no other questions, and asked the members of the jury if they had any questions for the witness. Two jurors raised their hands, indicating that they had questions. The jurors wrote their questions down for Judge Freer to read aloud.

The first question from the jury asked about the male voice heard in the background of the second 911 call. The question asked Hernandez if she heard the male voice in the background.

Hernandez stated she did not hear a male voice. Judge Freer asked if the dispatch call logs indicate who the male in the background of the call is. Hernandez stated, “I would not know.”

Judge Freer read the second question from the jury, which asked if dispatchers are able to change the summary of the call that is displayed in the logs. Hernandez responded that after the log is submitted, it cannot be changed.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense had any questions for the witness in light of the jurors’ questions. The prosecution asked that Hernandez be subject to recall.

The jury trial is scheduled to resume on March 8.

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About The Author

Sahaily is a senior undergraduate student at California State University Long Beach, majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Human Development. She aspires to become a public defender.

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