By Oliver Camarena and Veronica Miller
WOODLAND, CA – Jose Trinidad Perez Meza’s trial on two sexual assault charges proceeded Tuesday in Yolo County Superior Court with testimony from a victim of the alleged assault, a witness and three people involved in the discovery of evidence for the case.
Meza is facing two counts of assault with intent to commit mayhem, rape, sodomy, or oral copulation; sexual penetration against will; sexual battery; attempted rape by force; assault by force likely to produce great bodily injury, 2nd degree robbery, preventing or dissuading a witness/victim by threat or force; and preventing or dissuading a witness/victim from reporting.
Deputy District Attorney David Robbins started by calling on one of the victims of the sexual assaults that took place in Davis back in August of 2020.
The victim began her testimony by recalling the night in question. Having just finished a long day of remote work, she decided to go for a walk on a bike path near her apartment as she’d done several times before. It was late at night, past midnight, but she said she felt safe.
While she was walking and playing on her phone, she said heard some noises behind her, little taps that she dismissed as squirrels or something not of concern. Then, someone came up behind her and wrapped their arm around her neck, putting her in a stranglehold.
Eventually, she passed out and she told the court, while crying, that the pressure from the stranglehold was “killing pressure” and she sometimes wonders if she’s still really alive.
The victim said she felt the pain from the assault up to a week later but at the time it felt like the man was just trying to kill her.
Due to the strangulation, she claimed to have lost sense of her internal processes and didn’t perceive much of what was going on. She said she doesn’t remember the exact details of what happened but noticed some things like light poles or trash cans that she was familiar with on the path as she was being dragged while still in a headlock.
She recalled that when she became more aware of her surroundings, she was still being dragged but with a loser grip, allowing her to breathe somewhat. The man told her not to scream and to give her phone to him so she couldn’t call the police.
She gave him her phone in fear she’d be killed for refusing and said the man had told her “I just want to f**k you.”
At this point, she could feel him grabbing all over her body but said she’d “rather die than have sex with him,” while detailing how she tried to resist him.
DDA Robbins gave the victim a diagram of a person to allow her to illustrate where the man allegedly touched her by marking it on the diagram.
The victim also mentioned that the man claimed to have a gun, telling her not to scream, and though she never saw nor felt the gun she still believed he may have one and feared for her life.
She begged the man to stop, saying anything she could think of to try to elicit some remorse or guilt out of him, which eventually worked. The man grabbed her by her breasts forcefully while pulling her up and apologized saying he didn’t know why he did it and begged her not to call the police even though he still had her phone.
The man insisted on walking her back to her apartment and she reluctantly agreed to it out of fear of what he’d do if she refused. While walking, he grabbed hold of her hand and held it with a tight grip.
He also told her stories, which she later learned were made up, about his past and how he had been abandoned by his mother, then foster family, and other details to try to make it seem like he had a troubled past.
She said the man smelled of cigarettes and had not showered for a few days. He walked very close to her with his body occasionally touching her own and that she tried to keep him occupied with conversation while she came up with a plan of what to do.
Before they arrived at her apartment, the man said he wanted to talk with her on a bench outside, though she refused, saying she needed tea for her throat and they both walked to and entered her apartment. Just before entering, however, she was able to get her phone back from the man by agreeing to give her phone number to him.
Once inside, she made tea for both herself and the man who assaulted her in hopes of stalling long enough to be able to talk to her housemate. She made the tea slowly while she and the man continued to speak to one another while he kept asking her if she wanted to have sex.
Eventually, her housemate heard them and called down to her from upstairs asking what happened in Chinese.
She told him in Chinese in a calm voice not to come down, afraid he might get shot, and to call the police three times, although her housemate was still confused as to what was happening. This made her assaulter nervous and he started to put his shoes back on.
The victim’s housemate then started coming downstairs, which prompted the assaulter to leave before he was seen by the victim’s housemate.
In the following days, she met with a police sketch artist who recreated the man’s features with her help. The victim also noted that her neck hurt for a week later and she felt dizzy the day following the assault.
The victim was able to identify the man in court and in pictures given to her by DDA Robbins.
During cross-examination, private attorney Jesse Ortiz, III, clarified the beginning of the night with the victim getting off a long day of work and going for a walk. Ortiz moved on to asking about her statements to the police following the assault when she took them to the bike path and showed them where the incident started.
He asked the victim several questions using her testimony to officers two years prior that contradicted what she said during her testimony in court. The victim clarified several of the discrepancies between her testimony in court compared to what she told the officers in the past by saying things like English not being her first language making it difficult for her to fully answer the officer’s questions.
She also said that she was embarrassed to talk about the details of the incident to a male officer.
The victim and Ortiz did agree on some of the points of clarification brought up during his cross-examination, but she became upset with Ortiz several times during his questioning too, bringing her to tears.
She fully clarified that, culturally, it was embarrassing for her as a woman and a Chinese citizen to have to tell the officers about having to beg the man not to sexually assault her and she was further embarrassed about going into the sexual details.
It was also difficult for her to find the correct words in English to explain how she felt and the shame the assault brought upon her. She didn’t understand why the man did what he did, either to shame and embarrass her or for his personal pleasure.
During recross, DDA Robbins asked about the accused being able to see the accused’s full face after he had removed a mask he was wearing, as well as the lighting of the area where the assault first happened.
She said that she looked up other sexual assault cases in the two years before this trial because she couldn’t understand why the man did what he did. She felt great shame and said again that, because of her culture, this is the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to her.
She ended her testimony in tears by expressing her confusion about the man’s motives, thinking he wanted to punish her or show that she was inferior to him.
The next witness called was the housemate of the victim at the time of the assault. He described what he was doing before he heard voices outside his room. He tried texting the victim to ask what was happening but after she didn’t respond, he came to the top of the stairs to talk to her.
He recalled the time was about 12:40 a.m. and having a conversation with the victim where she told him in Chinese to call the police. When he eventually came downstairs, he saw only his housemate and could tell something was wrong based on her expression.
Together, they called the police on his phone. DDA Robbins concluded his questioning by asking if he was able to identify the man that was in his home that night and he was unable to, as he had never seen him before.
Next, Robbins called Joyce Ly, a supervising forensic ID specialist with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, who recounted her training and experience collecting sketches of suspects.
Ly recalled sketching the accused with the consultation of the victim that described a male Hispanic adult, approximately 40 years old, that was tan with dark hair and eyes. He was further described as having a mole on his cheek and a line of hair missing on his eyebrow with a height of 5’4-5’5. She said that the victim confirmed that the sketch resembled the likeness of the suspect.
Linda Schwend was called next. Schwend is a police service specialist that handles cases in which there isn’t an immediate suspect. She described the process of collecting DNA from a crime scene and the steps taken to ensure there is no cross-contamination. She recalled her work on this case, getting fingerprints from the inside of the victim’s house as well as DNA from the cup the assaulter drank from that night.
DDA Robbins then brought forth that same cup as evidence and asked her to reexplain how she took DNA or fingerprints from this cup. Schwend talked about how she sent the fingerprints to the Dept. of Justice for identification.
Officer Joshua Helton, a police offer for Santa Clara with a specialization in strangulation, was called next. He and DDA Robbins went through his training and experience identifying and working to educate others on strangulation. With the fact that he’d been an expert on previous cases involving strangulation, he was accepted as an expert witness for this case.
He then described the differences between choking and strangulation and their effects on the body, as the terms are commonly used interchangeably even though they are two separate things.
Officer Helton explained a diagram of a neck and the various parts of the neck. He then described what happens to these parts of the neck during strangulation.
DDA Robbins asked him what has to happen for the person being strangled to pass out, to which he responded that it means that the cells in the brain are not receiving the appropriate amount of oxygen and therefore are turning off.
Officer Helton also pointed out some of the signs and symptoms of a person that has been strangled. Some of these symptoms are difficulty speaking, sore throat, and pain.
While some of the signs, he said, are visual clues that strangulation has occurred, some are harder to find because there usually are not a lot of outside visual clues that one may have occurred. A victim may also not be able to feel any of the symptoms directly after.
The next witness that was called was Officer Matthew North, who works with the Santa Rosa Police Department. Officer North had been called to the apartment of the victim where he questioned the victim on the incident that had occurred.
Officer North stated that the victim had appeared calm and collected given the circumstances that had called him there. The victim had also been using crutches with one of her legs being casted.
The victim had discussed hitting her head during the incident for which she was taken in an ambulance to the hospital.
The victim had described the suspect as a 5’10 Hispanic male, with a goatee, and wearing a beanie. Officer North also discussed being afraid that the suspect knew where she lived.
DDA Robbins then called Lauren Mendenhall, a latent print analyst. Mendenhall described how they do analysis of fingerprints that they receive from various police departments. With the fingerprints that they receive they compare it to fingerprints from federal, state, and local databases.
Mendenhall worked on this case where she received a hit and through further analysis through looking at the prints herself found the prints to belong to Meza. This fingerprint was obtained from a drinking glass at the scene.
The last witness of the day was Detective Matthew Muscardini, who works with the Davis Police Department. Detective Muscardini interviewed the victim who had been attacked.
During the interview the victim discussed having neck pain and that she had lost consciousness after having an arm put around her neck. The victim also stated that the attacker had told her that he wanted to “f**k her.” The attacker had also gotten her phone number which would later be found on Meza’s phone.
Through surveillance that was collected by a neighboring apartment complex, Detective Muscardini got a sketch made of who they thought the suspect was. Through this and tips from the community they were able to connect it to Meza.
The victim also picked Meza out of a collection of photos that Detective Muscardini put together. The victim appeared to be emotional and had a hard time looking at the photo.