Aquelin Talamantes knew exactly what she was doing when she drowned her 5-year-old girl in the bathtub last fall, a Yolo County jury found Friday after less than three days of deliberations.
She acted in a “willful, deliberate and premeditated” manner when she held Tatiana Garcia face-up in the bath water at her oldest sister’s Davis home, making her guilty of first-degree murder, jurors determined.
In bucking the defense’s hopes for a second-degree murder conviction, jurors apparently rejected the notion that Talamantes, 29, acted spontaneously while in a psychotic state the morning of Sept. 26. But it won’t be until the conclusion of the trial’s second portion – the insanity phase – that jurors declare whether the woman belongs in prison, or a state mental health facility.
Should she go to a correctional facility, Talamantes faces a term of 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. A second-degree conviction would have landed her a sentence of 15 years to life.
How long she would remain in a state-operated psychiatric facility was the subject of some debate Friday afternoon, as the sanity phase began. Jurors for a third time heard testimony from the doctor who believes Talamantes was in a state of “acute paranoid psychosis” when she killed her daughter, a condition that had been building through years of molestation, grief over her own mother’s murder and abuse at the hands of her children’s father.
Testy exchanges between Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens and psychiatrist Captane Thomson seen last week were repeated Friday, with the annoyed doctor at one point charging that the prosecutor was “dead wrong” and that he didn’t think one of his questions “merits an answer.”
“I don’t think your concern is appropriate here,” Thomson told Couzens after the prosecutor questioned whether Talamantes could be free within months if hospital doctors determine she is not actually mentally ill, as Couzens has argued, and therefore should be released.
“Thank you for that,” Couzens retorted.
Thomson argued that people admitted to state hospitals often end up serving longer time than if they had gone to prison, and that doctors at such facilities are “conservative” and “sensitive” to public safety concerns.
Thomson said they will continue to treat patients “even when they look as they are no longer mentally ill or … not a danger,” later adding that hospitals can hold people “indefinitely.”
“Getting out of the hospital is much more difficult than getting out of prison,” Thomson said under questioning by Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen.
He also testified the hospitals are surrounded by 12-foot fences topped with razor wire and are extremely difficult to enter or exit. “People do not escape,” he said.
Talamantes drowned her daughter not long after two Davis police officers conducted a welfare check at her sister’s home after one officer saw strange behavior by Talamantes. Officers left after finding that the woman did not meet criteria for a mental health hold.
Talamantes wrapped the unconscious girl in a blanket, put her in a garbage bag and stuffed the bag in the trunk of her car. She then drove to another sister’s apartment in Sacramento, where police, summoned by worried relatives, made the gruesome discovery.
According to testimony, Talamantes made conflicting statements about her motivation, saying at various points that she thought the girl was Satan, that voices made her do it and that she did it to spare her daughter from decapitation by police.
Again asked by Couzens how he could accurately diagnose somebody who sometimes appears to lie, Thomson acknowledged the discrepancies, but said that did not change his opinion. He also took notable exception to the prosecutor’s use of the word “lie” and asked him instead to describe it as embellishment or exaggeration.
“I see this nice lady as a very disturbed woman,” he said. “I’m not surprised she gave different descriptions.”
He later said that he had once told Talamantes she was not “prison material” and testified Friday that she would be better treated in a mental hospital.
“You felt sorry for Ms. Talamantes,” Couzens said.
“I think it’s just a terrible, terrible shame to have something like this happen,” Thomson replied.
The doctor is expected to return to the stand Monday morning. A second psychiatrist also is scheduled to testify before jurors decide how Talamantes will serve her time.
Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.