Priscilla Talamantes took the witness stand Wednesday to face the woman prosecutors say killed her niece: Her sister, Aquelin Talamantes.
“Have you been concerned about this day since September?” asked Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens. “Do you remember being present when your niece was found in the trunk of your sister’s car?”
Priscilla Talamantes, near tears, responded “yes” to both, then detailed in often emotional testimony the September day that her sister drove to her Sacramento apartment complex with 5-year-old daughter Tatiana stowed in the trunk, still in pajamas and wrapped in a blanket.
The murder trial of Aquelin Talamantes entered its second day Wednesday in Yolo Superior Court. Talamantes, 29, faces allegations of first-degree murder and assault on a child younger than 8 years resulting in death. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Prosecutors say Aquelin Talamantes drowned Tatiana Garcia in the bathtub of their Davis home last September before stowing her daughter in the trunk of her car.
Priscilla was seven months’ pregnant Sept. 26, 2013, at her Pocket Road apartment when she got the call from another sister, Elisa Torres, who also lived at the Davis home, she testified. The little girl the sisters called “Tati” could not be found, while Aquelin had driven off with her 4-year-old son Michael.
Torres was calling the police.
“In a million years, I never thought something like this could take place,” Priscilla said from the stand. But it apparently had, and Priscilla knew she had to reach her sister. Aquelin picked up the phone while behind the wheel.
“I asked her, ‘Where you at?’ She said, ‘I’m driving with Michael.’ I asked, ‘Where are you going?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Then, Aquelin “started ranting,” Priscilla Talamantes testified. “ ‘Are they waiting for me there? Do they want to get me?’ She kept saying, ‘I can’t find her. Help me find her. I can’t find her.’ ”
Priscilla Talamantes begged Aquelin to drive to her apartment.
“Come to my house, please. Come, we’ll find her together,” she testified, at times, through tears. “She just kept going on about how they’re going to get her. It was just crazy. I wanted her to come to my house to figure it out. I wanted her to come to my house.”
Priscilla Talamantes had concerns about her sister’s mental health in the year or so before Tatiana’s death, she said. Little things here and there, odd behavior, she testified.
Growing up in a home defined by abuse and death and a violent relationship with the father of her two children had already left its scars, but she was getting help and living with her sister in Davis, Priscilla said.
But there were also the constant calls and text messages asking Priscilla to take care of the children. Aquelin favored daughter Tati, “put her on a pedestal,” Priscilla said, but Priscilla openly worried how well they were being cared for.
Aquelin often told her she was overwhelmed by parenthood. Priscilla and Torres, the older sister who took in the family after their mother’s violent death in 1995, were working to gain custody of Aquelin’s children.
“I talked with her about raising kids – have them bathe more often, in general take better care of them and be a better parent,” Priscilla said on the stand. “She said it was hard. She didn’t have a mom. She didn’t know what to do. She would say she didn’t know how. The interesting thing was that I was confused myself. I wasn’t sure whether she did know.”
Aquelin finally pulled into the parking lot with Michael in tow and walked to the rear of the car. She patted the trunk before joining sister Priscilla on the apartment steps. Aquelin acted “weird, bizarre, looking up in the sky, bringing up conversations about our mom,” Priscilla said.
“ ‘Where’s Tatiana?’ I said, and she’d hold her keys really tight,” Priscilla said. “I had this gut feeling that she could be in the trunk,” Priscilla continued from the stand. “As she was getting out of the car, she patted the trunk, trying to make sure it was closed. That confirmed my feeling – it was an intuition feeling. I thought I was in a twilight zone.”
The police had already been on the phone with Priscilla, she testified. Stall her, they said. Keep her there, we’re on our way.